The economic odds facing Avigail Rodriguez a few years ago couldn’t have been much worse. An undocumented immigrant and a single mother, she lived in a cramped apartment in a tough neighborhood in San Antonio and earned just $9 an hour working as a nurse’s assistant.
Today, Ms. Rodriguez, 26, owns her own home in a safer area, earns nearly three times as much as she did before and has secured legal residency. The key to her turnaround was a training program called Project Quest, whose own ability to beat the odds is no less striking than that of Ms. Rodriguez.Project Quest has succeeded where many similar retraining efforts have failed, taking workers lacking in skills and successfully positioning them for jobs where they can earn double or triple what they did previously.
“This really gives employers a chance to find workers they wouldn’t otherwise have considered,” said Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard University. “At the same time, it provides opportunities to a rather disadvantaged group of workers, both younger and older.”
Project Quest was born 27 years ago in a Hispanic neighborhood in San Antonio where poverty rates are above the citywide average. After the closing of a Levi Strauss factory there, community groups [i.e. COPS/Metro, see comment at right] created Project Quest as a way of preparing workers for better-paying, more highly skilled jobs that were less vulnerable but still in demand.
[Photo Credit: Joanna Kulesza, New York Times]
Job Training Can Save Lives. See How San Antonio Does It., New York Times [pdf]
Project QUEST, the nonprofit workforce development organization created more than a quarter-century ago by the COPS/Metro Alliance, has been awarded a $1 million grant that the organization says will allow it to serve more San Antonians with expanded job training programs.
The award comes from the Rockefeller Foundation and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative as part of their Communities Thrive Challenge, which awarded $1 million each to 10 organizations across the nation, working to “help low-income and financially insecure people find and retain well-paid, meaningful work, achieve financial security or build economically vibrant neighborhoods.”
San Antonio’s Project QUEST wins national $1 million grant, San Antonio Express-News [pdf]
One week before the San Antonio City Council votes on the municipal budget, COPS / Metro leaders descended on City Hall to call for increased funding for long-term workforce development program Project Quest. Increasing the city's investment in Quest from $2.2 Million to $ 2.5 Million would enable the program to train an additional 100 residents for new jobs.Read more
Project QUEST, With New Director and Research Ammo, Pushed for More Funding, San Antonio Express-News
Almost ten years ago, Project QUEST agreed to participate in a randomized control trial in which half of a pool of 400+ qualified and equally motivated applicants were picked by a computer to participate in Project QUEST. The other half were turned away. They pursued other options.
After three years, Project QUEST graduates already earned more than those who were turned away. By Year 6, the difference in earnings not only persisted, but increased to over $5,000 per year.Read more
Project Quest, Rackspace Train Military Veterans in Cybersecurity and Celebrate 4th Year of Open Cloud Academy
When Jacob Mireles returned home from deployment in Afghanistan and Kuwait last year, he quickly applied to Project QUEST for Rackspace's Open Cloud Academy cyber security track in Information Technology. During the training he ran into financial issues and Project QUEST assisted with a portion of the mortgage and utilities. He went on to successfully complete the program and soon after graduation, was hired by IP Secure where he now works as a Security Control Assessor, testing risks attributable to software and hardware systems.Read more
One year after raising the minimum wage for employees of the City of San Antonio (from $11.47 to $13 per hour), COPS / Metro Alliance leaders are celebrating again after the City Council passed a budget that includes a second wage raise to $13.75 per hour. This follows an intense two-year campaign with over 1,000 leaders recently assembling with the Mayor and council representatives to remind them of their commitment to a living wage. When the Mayor made some noise about living wages being an 'outsider's' agenda, leader Maria Tijerina fired back with an editorial reminding her that COPS / Metro is a local organization with a robust constituency.
City Council additionally approved shifting funding for workforce development program Project QUEST out from human services into economic development with its own line in the budget. Funding increased to $2.2 million including $200 thousand to cover tuition for the Open Cloud Academy training developed in collaboration with Rackspace.Read more
Of these graduates, 221 were supported by Project Quest through City funds secured by COPS / Metro leaders. COPS / Metro's intervention to secure local funding put Project Quest on the cutting edge of bootcamp training for IT workers in San Antonio.Read more
Says Sr. Pearl Ceasar:Read more
Over 400 leaders of COPS / Metro Alliance assembled at St. Henry's Catholic Church, to confront the top candidates for Mayor and City Council (Districts 2, 3, 5 and 7) on wages, workforce development and housing in the City.
Leaders asked candidates to commit to raising wages for the lowest paid city employees from $11.47 to $14.91 / hour over three years, starting with $13 / hour for fiscal year 2016; establishing a wage floor for contracted and outsourced workers to at least the City's current minimum of $11.47; stabilizing city funding for workforce development program Project Quest at $2 million per year; and working with COP / Metro leaders on a 2017 city bond for housing rehabilitation.Read more