Why Are These Corporations Coming Together for Workforce development?

What do a handful of software companies, automobile suppliers, and auto makers have in common? Well for one, a philanthropic drive for workforce development that goes beyond just putting people into jobs. And secondly, they have a soft spot for Detroit.

A major collaboration was announced that involves Microsoft Corp., Magna International, Lear Corp., the GM Foundation, and Ford Motor Co. All of these corporate funders have kicked in to support Focus: HOPE, an organization that provides job training and food for mothers, kids, and seniors.

According to a press release, Microsoft Corp. is offering $2 million in software and cash, Magna International is giving $1 million and robotics equipment, Lear Corp. and GM Foundation both pledged $500,000, and Ford Motor Co. donated $360,000 to Focus: HOPE. So if you’re doing the math, this adds up to about $4.5 million for the Detroit organization’s workforce development and educational programs.

Focus: HOPE’s goal is to train around 12,000 people over the next 15 years in the fields of manufacturing and information technologies. However, these big corporate commitments are just one piece of the puzzle. The nonprofit is trying to secure $30 million in private funding over the next five years to push its programs through. It even caught the attention of the U.S. Labor Department, which has committed $3 million.

The largest commitment in this corporate collaboration was Microsoft, a company that’s no stranger to the services of Focus: HOPE. Back in 1997, for example, Microsoft announced a $1.5 million software grant to provide the nonprofit with operating systems for servers and PCs, systems management and automation tools, and consulting services. At that same time, Bill Gates met with Detroit youth and seniors to announce that the company would also provide $500,000 for cutting-edge PC technology at the main library and 24 branches in the city.

Support for the organization is timely because of the obvious racial tensions running high all across America. You see, Focus: HOPE was founded in 1968 after riots widened the rift between Detroit’s black and white residents. Media coverage of police brutality and hashtag activists have set the stage for nonprofits to bridge racial disparities that exist just as much as ever before.

This is a nonprofit that looks to break race and gender barriers in machinist trades and diversify the workforce in the fields of engineering and technology. So essentially, an investment in Focus: HOPE isn’t just an investment in workforce development; it’s also an investment in a nationally recognized civil and human rights organization.

This is also a key time to give Detroit a much-needed economic boost. Funders with and without strong connections to the city are starting to jump on the Detroit bandwagon to pull the city up and reach its workforce potential.

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Last October, Focus: HOPE had to suspend new enrollment in its job training programs because it didn’t have enough funding. This followed 10 percent pay cuts for over 100 employees, a blow to the already struggling Detroit workforce. According to Crain’s Detroit Business, “The cuts followed the expiration or non-renewal of nearly $3.2 million total in workforce training and related grants from the Michigan Economic Development Association and Detroit Employment Solutions Corp. The MEDC renewal grant was awarded to other nonprofit contractees this year that the MEDC said were better suited to fulfill.”