Detroit needs jobs. Not just any jobs, but jobs that pay a living wage.
The problem is there are not enough suitable jobs in Detroit to go around. There are only about 259,000 and only a fourth of them are held by people who live in the city. Worse yet, in 2014 just half of Detroit residents ages 16-64, or 242,000 people, reported working any amount of time over the last 12 months.
So says a recent study by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and The Corporation for a Skilled Workforce. The study was developed as part of JPMorgan Chase’s $100 million commitment to Detroit’s economic recovery.
There are answers, and one of them lies in the more than 25 square miles of vacant land in Detroit.
A workforce development program called Detroit Conservation Corps (DCC) trains Detroiters in the skilled trades of landscape technician, tree artisan, floral decor, urban agriculture, landscape construction and urban forestry. It’s a partnership between the Greening of Detroit, Focus: HOPE and the Neighborhood Services Organization.
If all goes according to plan, 5,000 Detroiters like Bobbie Hendrix Jr. and Phillip Tucker won’t be part of those jobless statistics over the next few years. Already more than 350 Detroiters have graduated from The Greening’s adult workforce training cohort since its inception five years ago. The program became certified as a federal apprenticeship program through the U.S. Department of Labor last year and currently has a 93 percent job placement rate.
“We are very excited about the possibilities before us,” said Devon Buskin, director of workforce development at The Greening of Detroit. “Training Detroiters in new job skills and putting them to work gives them back their dignity and a chance for a better tomorrow.”
The goal is to find jobs for the unemployed and underemployed, so many of those who join the program are down on the luck and are looking for a second … sometimes third … chance. They find more than just job training here. They also find emotional support and a new “family.”
“I love you all,” graduate Hendrix said to his classmates. “You all pulled me up and wouldn’t let me quit. I got into this program to make a change in my life. This is my very first graduation.”
Tucker buried his mother just a month before he entered the program and lost his brother a short five months earlier.
“I was in a rough place,” he says. “I came in here and just wanted to get it done. I didn’t want to talk or get to know anyone, but we became family. I now have a new brother, a new little sister, another brother …we have been there for each other through the whole eight weeks.”
This year about 300 Detroit residents will graduate from the program. About three-quarters of them will come from north central Detroit neighborhoods or District 2. Later this year the partnership hopes to add people from the central Detroit neighborhood or District 5 to the program.
“People from the neighborhood will transform the neighborhood, how cool,” says Trish Hubbell, director, community and public relations at The Greening of Detroit.
There are 350 empty lots in the neighborhood, which amounts to about a half-square mile, so there is plenty of work to be done, now in the in the future. While The Greening has some maintenance built into the effort there must be a plan to keep the green spaces green and beautiful. That will be the job of the Detroit Conservation Corps graduates.
“Engagement efforts are so important,” says The Greening’s Hubbell. “The neighbors will know how to care for the green spaces themselves. That is part of the process.”
Green is the color of rebirth and growth … of renewal, the restoration of depleted energy and nurturing. These new green spaces, and those who love and care for them, will bring all that to the neighborhoods.