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Community colleges receive $20 million for job training

Sandra Larson | 10/4/2011, 10:33 p.m.

The U.S. Dept. of Labor has awarded a $20 million grant to Massachusetts community colleges for programs to help unemployed and displaced workers attain degrees, certificates or other credentials to accelerate their path to re-employment.

The Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Grant, announced Sept. 26, is funded through the Dept. of Labor in partnership with the U.S. Dept. of Education.

The grant paves the way for new collaborations between community colleges, work force development organizations and employers, said Gretchen Manning, deputy director of the Massachusetts Community Colleges Executive Office. Besides the state’s 15 community colleges, money will go to Massachusetts One-Stop Career Centers, the Adult Basic Education system and employer partners across the state, she said.

Three of the state’s One-Stop Career Centers are located in Boston: JobNet (www.jobnetboston.org) and The Work Place (www.theworkplace.org) in downtown Boston, and Career Link (www.bostoncareerlink.org) in Roxbury.

Manning noted that the grant gives flexibility to community colleges and career centers to choose the industry partners most likely to provide jobs in their local area. For instance, manufacturing may make sense in Berkshires communities, while health care and life sciences may be a better fit for Boston.

“We’re trying to ensure there are jobs at the end of the training,” she said.

Roxbury Community College (RCC) will receive “$785,000 and some change” from the grant over three years, said Dr. Brenda W. Mercomes, RCC’s vice president of academic affairs. She said she is pleased at the amount of the award.

“It’s pretty big,” she said. “It gives us a nice amount of money to use toward re-training.”

 One of the priorities for the grant money at RCC will be accelerating progress for low-skilled workers by incorporating “contextualized learning,” a way of infusing specific career knowledge into basic skills education.

“As a simple example,” Mercomes said, “if we’re teaching an English course for people going into a health care field, the reading would be contextualized to fit that subject.”

Another priority will be to build programs that include career pathways along with skills meeting industry needs. RCC will have partnerships with “industries where people can get jobs,” she said, including engineering, information systems technology and biotechnology.

The grant proposal, entitled “Massachusetts Community College and Workforce Development Transformation Agenda” was submitted by Worcester’s Quinsigamond Community College on behalf of all 15 of the community colleges.

Sen. John Kerry lent a hand to the process by writing a letter in April to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in support of the community colleges’ proposal.

“Senator Kerry believes this funding is critical to job training in this state,” said Kerry spokesperson Whitney Smith. “He was thrilled at the amount of money that was awarded. He thinks it’s going to go a long way to keeping Massachusetts workers competitive.”