In 2016 a joint study by Harvard University and the University of California at Berkeley found that a person born into poverty in Charlotte has a lower chance of ascending the economic ladder than any of the 49 other cities included in the study.
In the fall of 2016, discord in the community led to public outcry for increased economic opportunity. Following the issuance of the Community Letter, the Economic Development department amplified workforce development efforts that were already underway to launch the Partnership for Inclusive Employment and Career Excellence (Project P.I.E.C.E.). This innovative program connects individuals with multiple barriers to employment to meaningful career paths while fulfilling labor market shortages in key industries, and in its first year, has made a lasting impact on its participants and our community.
The purpose of Project P.I.E.C.E. is to address labor market shortages in the construction industry by connecting 180 individuals who have barriers to employment with entry to mid-level opportunities in three key construction-related fields: residential and commercial construction, highway construction and broadband and fiber optic cabling.
Project P.I.E.C.E is delivered through a business-driven model that emphasizes industry involvement, intensive career counseling, and wrap-around social services that seek to develop the complete person and prepare them for life and a career.
Project P.I.E.C.E. partners Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont and the Urban League of the Central Carolinas have taken the lead in curriculum delivery and wrap around services. Goodwill provides training for residential and commercial construction using the National Center for Construction Education and Research curriculum and leverages their wealth of resources in career development. The Urban League provides training in the areas of fiber optics cabling and highway related construction, contracting with area experts to ensure up-to-date training curriculums and industry best practices. In all three areas, program participants receive 7-8 weeks of intensive skills training and certifications followed by several months of wrap-around services including financial literacy and career coaching with an emphasis on supporting the participant’s family. Following the completion of training, each cohort participates in mock interviews and a job fair for industry employers.
Project P.I.E.C.E. has a purposeful and intentional multi-platform outreach approach. A significant part of this approach has been community recruitment meetings in neighborhoods throughout the city. Additionally, the program has leveraged the strong community reputations of its partners to provide direct promotion and outreach to their client bases, which are typically of low income and with multiple barriers to employment. This has resulted in a broad-based pool of trainees that are Black, White, Latino, and other races and nationalities. One in six participants has been a woman. One in four participants has been between the ages of 18 and 24, and approximately one in three has had a criminal background. Project P.I.E.C.E. has strong support from the business community. During program development, over 50 companies were engaged in corporate advisory councils and assisted in curriculum development and staging mock-interview for program participants. The councils are made up of businesses in the construction, transportation, and broadband and fiber optics industries. City of Charlotte departments such as Charlotte Water, Aviation, Charlotte Department of Transportation, and Engineering & Property Management came to the table to explore how to create a pipeline of jobs for openings in our labor and trade positions.
In the program’s first year (January through December 2017), 154 individuals received training, 135 graduated, and 117 were employed, surpassing initial program objectives.
Recent P.I.E.C.E graduate Jonathan Counts recalls, “I heard about the Urban League and their cutting-edge programs and attended an 8-week training program in fiber optics. The professors were very knowledgeable and experts in their fields. They made the courses interesting and mentored each student. I am now a proud recipient of a National Fiber Optic/Broadband Certificate which led me to a position at AT&T/Direct TV. This tremendous opportunity has afforded me opportunities to advance in a short period. I will always owe a great deal of gratitude to the Urban League and Project P.I.E.C.E.”
Cost of Project: $1 million invested by the city council over a three-year period.
Timeline of Project: Since 2016
Initiator(s): The City of Charlotte’s Economic Development division, Goodwill Industries & Urban League of Central Carolinas
More about project P.I.E.C.E.
Charlotte, NC – 2018 AAC Winner: Presentation