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Stimulus grant helps unemployed build futures

As a part of an effort to combat national unemployment and to reinvigorate the economy, the federal government has recently awarded the Providence-based Building Futures program with a $3.72 million federal stimulus grant.

Building Futures was established in 2007 as an offshoot of the Providence Plan, which according to its Web site, is a broader initiative that addresses the underlying causes of Providence's high poverty rate and general urban decline. Building Futures targets unemployment specifically by offering courses on construction-related subjects such as welding and laying pipe, so that people may in turn find specialized jobs requiring those skills, according to Andrew Cortes, director of Building Futures. The program goes one step farther after graduation by offering apprenticeships with 28 local companies in construction-related fields that have formed partnerships with the organization.

The apprenticeships generally provide half the salary of a full-time job, with the possibility of becoming a full or "journey-level worker" dependent on job performance, according to Cortes. The money will provide new resources and tools for the students in the program, and enable the organization to accept 100 new workers, he said.

Cortes said the stimulus money will be used specifically to expand classes in what he called "the green curriculum," which often lead to jobs in industries such as renewable energy.

 Marlo Jackson, a recent graduate of the program who is currently employed by Building Futures while he prepares for the exam required to enter the piping industry, was quick to praise the program. "Before Building Futures, I wasn't doing much of anything else," he said. "Stick with (Building Futures) and it will change your life."

Sriniketh Nagavarapu, assistant professor of economics and environmental studies wrote in an e-mail to The Herald that the effect Building Futures has on the unemployment rate will depend on a "variety of factors."

"A program like this could very well decrease the unemployment rate, and the emphasis on labor-market attachment — through the apprenticeship program — could aid in that goal," he wrote. "But how strong is the demand for these types of workers in the local economy or in neighboring states?"

 As the program expands, the future will tell if the program will build futures as well as Jackson claimed.

"The name speaks for itself," he said.


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