A manufacturing plant on the South Side of San Antonio, Texas, closed in early 1990, laying off more than 1,000, mostly female, workers. Following the shutdown, two community-based organizations -- Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS) and Metro Alliance -- helped locate new jobs for the former employees. Finding local job-training programs inadequate, the groups took matters into their own hands. They met in churches and homes and built alliances with the business community, educational institutions, and local government. Out of these efforts -- and with funding from the City and the State of Texas -- Project QUEST was born.
Unlike many job-training programs that prepare people for dead-end, low-paying jobs, Project Quest -- Quality Employment through Skills Training -- trains its participants for highly skilled positions in growing industries, such as health care, electronics, and information systems. The training is rigorous, typically taking 18 to 24 months, but the outcome is worthwhile. The goal is to help workers qualify for jobs that pay at least $7.50 per hour -- sufficient to break out of poverty.
Project QUEST includes partnerships with employers in need of skilled workers and community colleges offering the necessary curricula. Over 60 employers are involved, either hiring graduates or serving on advisory committees for curriculum development and occupational analysis. In addition to certificate and degree programs in targeted fields, community colleges offer remedial math and language courses to prepare Project QUEST trainees for college enrollment.
Today COPS and Metro Alliance provide the community outreach necessary for recruiting and supporting QUEST trainees. Through vocational evaluations and in-depth counseling, staff ensure the best possible match between participants and services and training. Although the program requires a substantial commitment from trainees, it gives them a high degree of support. The program provides mentors to help motivate participants as well as child-care subsidies, transportation, and referrals to health and other support services.
By early 1995, 745 enrollees had begun Project QUEST training and more than 180 had been placed in jobs at an average wage of $7.80 per hour. Project QUEST is especially important in San Antonio, which has a large minimum-wage work force. Although the city's jobless rate is a relatively modest 4.5 percent, personal income is nearly 20 percent below the national average.
Project QUEST is an employer-driven, community-supported program incorporating recruitment, training, mentoring, and placement. Although the project requires substantial individual investment -- approximately $10,000 per person -- its aim is to provide lasting results to the problems of unemployment and underemployment in San Antonio.