Labor Market Intermediary Institutions

West/Southwest Industrial Areas Foundation organizations are pioneering workforce initiatives that bring working people out of poverty level jobs and into living wage careers. By building the political will for investment of public monies in long-term training, local organizations have successfully brought together employers, community college officials and community leaders to create long-term workforce development and education programs for actual jobs in high demand occupations.

Inspired by the success of the oldest of these labor market intermediaries, Project Quest in San Antonio, leaders established an additional nine projects in the West and Southwest US: Capital IDEA in Austin, Texas; Project ARRIBA in El Paso, Texas; VIDA in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas; JobPath in Tucson, Arizona; NOVA in Monroe, Louisiana, Skills-Quest in Dallas, Texas; Capital IDEA-Houston in Houston, Texas; Project IOWA; and Arizona Career Pathways in Phoenix. In 2014, DuPage County United launched its own labor market intermediary, Career Connect Metro West, just outside Chicago.

Collectively, these institutions have trained and placed over 16,000 adults in living wage jobs which pay, on average, $40,000 annually plus benefits and a career path. This number is expected to grow as the West/Southwest IAF expands into Phoenix, Des Moines, Albuquerque and DuPage.


Project Quest
Capital IDEA
Project ARRIBA
Capital IDEA-Houston
Project IOWA
Arizona Career Pathways
Career Connect Metro West


Report: ARRIBA Program That Helps Low-Income Students Through Nursing School Has $893 Million Impact, El Paso Inc.(2021) [pdf]

Job Training Can Change Lives.  See How San Antonio Does ItNew York Times (2019) [pdf]

San Antonio Program Moves Low-Skilled Workers Into Middle-ClassHouston Chronicle (2019) 

Texas Job Program Shows Unusually Strong, Lasting Gains, Study Finds, Austin American Statesman [pdf] (2017)

A Capital Idea: We Can’t Think of a More Valuable Initiative, Houston Chronicle (2014)

A Look at How Project ARRIBA Helps Individuals and the Community, KVIA (2014)

Job Training Program Adjusts Amid Funding Cuts, Texas Tribune (2013)

Who Can Fix the “Middle-Skills” Gap?, Harvard Business Review (2012) [pdf]

School for Success, The American Prospect (2012)

Project Quest a Worthwhile Investment for City, San Antonio Express News (2012)

Workforce Training of Parents Boost Children’s Aspirations
Austin American Statesman (2011)

Tucson Tech: $200,000 Grant to Help Train 50 Adults
Arizona Daily Star (2011)

VIDA Success Stories Multiply; Job-Training Organization Moves Forward
Brownsville Herald (2009)

Building a Career Where There Was Just a Dead End
Washington Post (2007)


The Economic Impact of Project Arriba on El Paso County, TexasHunt Institute for Global Competitiveness, University of Texas at El Paso (2021)

Nine Year Gains: Project QUEST's Continuing ImpactEconomic Mobility Corporation (2019)

VIDA: Implementation and Early Impact Report, Pathways for Advancing Careers in Education (2018)

Escalating Gains: The Elements of Project QUEST's SuccessEconomic Mobility Corporation (2018)

Escalating Gains: Project QUEST’S Sectoral Strategy Pays Off, Economic Mobility Corporation (2017) 

Economic Impact of Project ARRIBA on El Paso, Texas
UT El Paso, Institute for Policy and Economic Development (2015)

Economic Impacts of the JobPath Program on Pima County
Applied Economics (2014)

Return on Investment from Capital IDEA: Research Brief, Full Report, 2014 Update
UT Austin, Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources (2011)

VIDA: Economic Impact Study
UT Pan American, Data & Information Systems Center (2010)

Project Quest: A Case Study of a Sectoral Employment Development Approach, Aspen Institute (2001) [pdf]

Capital IDEA: Generational Impact Study (2011)

Beyond Graduation: Promoting Post-Program Engagement & Advancement
Aspen Institute (2009); On the Road to Success video (2010)


Further reading on workforce development strategies

IEF Labor Market Programs, a memo by MIT economist Paul Osterman (2002)  

Video about the establishment of Project Quest in San Antonio (1994)

Story about the establishment of Project Quest in San Antonio by COPS/Metro


[Photo Credit: William Luther, San Antonio Express News]


"These slower-than-expected results have prompted even local advocacy group COPS/Metro, one of Ready to Work’s earliest and staunchest champions, to criticize the program for not doing a good enough job of getting job commitments from employers upfront.

The good news is that everyone involved with Ready to Work has demonstrated a willingness to learn from mistakes and adapt."

Garcia: By Frustrating Trial and Error, Ready to Work is Changing LivesSan Antonio Express News [pdf]


Urges More Cities and Counties to Invest in VIDA

Valley Interfaith leaders Rosalie Tristan and Joe Hinojosa celebrated VIDA's recent fundraising success as the culmination of 28 years of dreams and hard political work.  Almost three decades ago, Valley Interfaith established and, over the years, sustained the labor market intermediary to help transform jobs in the Rio Grande Valley. 

Valley Interfaith Leaders Proud of VIDA's SuccessRio Grande Guardian


On Dec. 15, the El Paso County Commissioners Court unanimously awarded the organization [Project ARRIBA] $1 million in American Rescue Plan funds.

“Your decision to invest this one-time historic amount of funding will go a long way for our families and our economy at a time when there is an enormous need,” said Daniel Tirres, a leader with EPISO/BI to the commissioners. “Now is the time for the court to double down rather than let up.”

In meetings with Hays County Commissioners, Corridor Interfaith leaders in Central Texas emphasized the importance of workforce development in one of the fastest growing counties in the county.  The Commissioners Court responded, increasing its public investment in long-term job training by 10% to $55,0000 in the upcoming fiscal year.  

Capital IDEA graduate Mary Helen testified, saying: "After working as a paramedic... I went back to college and earned my RN degree. I currently work as an ICU nurse at Ascension Seton Network and provided care to the first COVID patients in our region."

[Excerpt from San Antonio Report]

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh heaped praise on San Antonio’s city government for its expansive workforce development program, often called the largest of its kind in the country.  He said he wishes the federal government could do more.

At a roundtable discussion with local industry leaders and city officials Monday, Walsh called SA Ready to Work — the city’s $230 million program aiming to train thousands of low-wage workers for middle-class careers over the next five years — innovative and exemplary for its heavy collaboration with industry leaders.....

SA Ready to Work opened for enrollment in May, though many pre-registered. In the nearly four months since then, slightly more than 5,400 applicants have signed up — nearly fulfilling what the city anticipated to be enrollment through its entire first year.

Outpacing both contractors so far is Project Quest, the jobs training nonprofit that [like SA Ready to Work] sprang out of COPS/Metro.  Project Quest is managing the cases of 112 participants.

[Photo Credit: Alamo Colleges]

Labor Secretary Would Like to See Bigger Federal Investments in Ready to WorkSan Antonio Report [pdf]

U.S. Secretary of Labor visits the Alamo Colleges DistrictAlamo Colleges District [pdf]

Executive Director Michelle Paul explains how Capital IDEA Houston transforms lives.  Capital IDEA Houston is a long-term job training program established by TMO.  

Arizona Interfaith Network (AIN) leveraged a $5 million investment from the state of Arizona to help hundreds of families step into economic security with the expansion of long-term workforce development initiatives JobPath in Pima County and Arizona Career Pathways in Maricopa County.

AIN leaders worked with state legislators to direct $5 million from Arizona’s federal Coronavirus relief funding to expand the program in the wake of the pandemic.  This investment will ensure that low-income families can access high-quality education and training for lower earning families.

The completion rate for Arizona Career Pathways is 90%, the job placement rate is 85%, and the average starting wage is $24.50 per hour.

JobPath is an initiative of Pima County Interfaith and Arizona Career Pathways is a Valley Interfaith Project initiative.


Project ARRIBA has been quietly working with El Paso leaders to help hundreds of mostly Hispanic students from poor families through nursing school and drastically changing their lives since 1998. They’ve been at it so quietly they barely get noticed publicly anymore. But they have been busy.

The Hunt Institute of Global Competitiveness at the University of Texas at El Paso released a study last month that found for every dollar invested in Project ARRIBA, $28 is returned to the region. ARRIBA has added $893 million to El Paso’s economy in earnings by the program’s graduates since 1995, the report says.

The nonprofit recently received a $250,000 Bank of America grant for regional workforce development to address “a shortage of healthcare workers at a critical time.”  The El Paso region has long suffered an acute shortage of nurses, but since the novel coronavirus made its debut, the shortage has worsened. And hospitals in El Paso, like many others across America, are short on registered nurses by the hundreds.


El Paso businessman Woody Hunt endorsed the organization in the announcement, saying,

“Project ARRIBA has become a crucial community partner that is helping build the next generation of healthcare workers who come from and understand the unique needs of our region...."

ARRIBA sprang from a social justice organization that El Paso’s Catholic Diocese formed in 1985 known as the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization, or EPISO. It’s now called EPISO-Border Interfaith because churches of other denominations have joined.

[In photo: Roman Ortiz, Executive Director of ARRIBA.  Photo Credit: David Crowder, El Paso Inc.]

Report: ARRIBA Program That Helps Low-Income Students Through Nursing School Has $893 Million ImpactEl Paso Inc. [pdf]



....The JobPath program was founded by the Pima County Interfaith Council in 1998. Now its own, separate nonprofit entity, the program continues to provide supplementary funds to Pima County students.

But after 23 years, the workforce development program is bolstering its operations — with the help of $1.75 million in funding from the county — to reach hundreds of more students this year.

The county allocated JobPath $1 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan, which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 11 to facilitate economic recovery from the pandemic. The other $750,000 was budgeted from the county’s general fund.

Including private and public donations and $185,000 from the city of Tucson, JobPath is operating under its largest budget ever this year at $2.3 million. Last fiscal year, the program enrolled 378 students. This year, the goal is to provide assistance to 670 students while hiring more staff to get the job done.

[Photo Credit: Kelly Presnell, Arizona Daily Star]

Nonprofit JobPath to Expand its Reach with $1M in American Rescue Plan FundsArizona Daily Star [pdf]


Back in 1992, she was an organizer for COPS/Metro Alliance when the powerful community organization designed and persuaded the City to financially back Project Quest, which early on and to this day has been recognized as one of the most successful job training programs in the country. In 2011, when Project Quest was plagued with controversy from failings due not to corruption but to incompetence, Sister Pearl was brought in to turn it around. She did and ran the organization for six years.

Now the City of San Antonio is embarking on SA: Ready to Work, a program approved by the voters last November that will spend $154 million over five or six years in an effort to train the city’s working poor for good-paying jobs that the city is now generating.

[Photo Credit: Nick Wagner/San Antonio Report]

Solid Advice For Erik Walsh: Talk To The Nun, San Antonio Report [pdf]

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