EVERETT — About 9,000 fewer people are working in Snohomish County than before the COVID-19 pandemic, state data show.
County Executive Dave Somers wants to change that.
On Thursday, Somers announced the county is investing $4.3 million in programs providing workforce training and addressing employment barriers. The money is the latest local investment from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.
In an interview, Somers said the county chose to award money to seven programs with two main goals in mind: investing in local businesses that need skilled workers and performing outreach to demographics who have challenges getting into the workforce.
“Every industry that we talked to has a challenge with finding workers,” Somers said. “There’s still a lot of challenges that were triggered by the pandemic that we’re addressing, and we thought this opportunity with federal dollars is critical.”
The unemployment rate in Snohomish County last month was 3.4%, down from double-digits early in the pandemic, Somers noted. Yet younger residents — ages 16 to 24 — have nearly four times that unemployment rate at 11.9%, according to the county. In addition, a retirement wave and child care deficit have exacerbated a worker shortage.
Earlier this month, Somers announced a $7.6 million in ARPA money address child care needs. But there are other barriers to employment, such as language, transportation, disabilities and skill sets.
Erin Matthews, director of employment and education at Housing Hope in Everett, is creating a work program for people who can’t attend school but want human services training. The county awarded the program $169,330, with an additional $245,920 to HopeWorks, a Housing Hope affiliate.
The four-week human services course will give classroom and hands-on experience while participants earn $16 per hour. After completing the program, they will have a 2-week job shadowing opportunity. Each will be connected with a human services specialist and education coordinator to help get a job.
Housing Hope partners with organizations like Volunteers of America, Cocoon House, Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest and Goodwill. Matthews said about 40% of people in Housing Hope employment education programs are there because they received help in a time of need.
“So many folks really want to give back the same way that they were wrapped around when they were going through adversity,” Matthews said.
The money will also help Housing Hope provide food and transportation access like gas and Orca cards.
The county also awarded $128,672 to Cares of Washington, a Seattle-based nonprofit that provides employment support to marginalized groups, including non-native English speakers, people of color and people with disabilities. The organization has served 13,400 people across King, Pierce, Kitsap and Snohomish counties.
CEO Lars Nowack said there are many barriers to finding and retaining employment, and many people need ongoing access to training and resources.
For example, Nowack said, someone may find a job but won’t be able to afford gas until they get their first paycheck. Cares of Washington can bridge that gap.
“We want to strengthen the community and help people achieve their goals,” Nowack said.
The money will allow the organization to provide more long-term services for people who come to them for help.
Here is a further breakdown of the awarded funds:
■ $1.5 million to Workforce Snohomish for a data analytics boot camp that will train 18- to 24-year-olds and others who face employment barriers.
■ Nearly $1.2 million to Economic Alliance Snohomish County and Snohomish STEM Network to increase access to STEM programs for over 5,000 students.
■ Almost $600,000 to Edmonds College for Link light rail construction pre-apprenticeship programs. The college will partner with Latino Educational Training Institute and Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest to combat language barriers.
■ And $474,410 to AJAC for aerospace and advanced manufacturing apprenticeships to train adults and youth, including Sno-Isle Skills Center students and students with disabilities.
More information about the programs can be found online via Snohomish County’s COVID-19 Recovery Dashboard.