QUEST wins 6 Million for IT Training

Originally published in My San Antonio by Lynn Brezosky

Project QUEST said Wednesday it has won a $6 million federal grant to help the nonprofit train some of the region’s long-term unemployed for well-paying jobs in information technology.

“Project QUEST is thrilled to receive this grant and we are ready to implement it,” Sister Pearl Ceasar, executive director of the 22-year-old agency, said during a news conference on the steps of City Hall.
The “Homegrown IT” project was part of about $170 million in grants announced Wednesday under the Labor Department’s “Ready to Work Partnership.”

The nationwide initiative supports collaborations between employers, nonprofit organizations and federal job-training programs to teach job seekers in-demand skills.
Labor Secretary Thomas Perez in a statement said there still were twice as many long-term unemployed — defined as those being out of work longer than six months — than before the Great Recession.

“There’s still many people who are classified as long-term unemployed that still find it challenging to get back into the workforce,” said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, one of a host of public officials and local business leaders on hand.

“Businesses have changed what they need,” Castro said. “We’ve moved further into the digital age, so this grant will be instrumental in making sure that we can prepare more San Antonians to enter the information technology field.”
The award is a vote of confidence for a largely public-funded organization that’s had to regain credibility. News reports in 2011 detailed careless invoicing, a startling $840,000 in debt, and a caseload of students its budget couldn’t support.

An audit revealed mismanagement but no fraud.
A city-appointed task force helped QUEST draw up a corrective action plan that included fundraising, cost-cutting and payment arrangements with colleges and bookstores.
QUEST since has continued to garner support from local leaders as well as businesses, which work with QUEST to identify marketable work skills and to help candidates attain them.

Last year, the organization served more than 1,000 adults.
Employers that signed onto the grant application include Rackspace Hosting Inc., the Denim Group Ltd., Zachry Holdings, Inc., Mission Pharmacal Co., Horizon Telephone Systems Inc. and WP Engine.

QUEST spokeswoman Maliha Imami said student recruitment is expected to start in April 2015. She said the funds would provide training for at least 500 people.

County Judge Nelson Wolff, who was San Antonio mayor when QUEST was founded, said the grant was recognition of the project’s ability to “lift a person up, to really train him for a job where he can make a decent living and take care of his family.”

“I think it is acknowledgement of the training that you’ll be providing for information technology and the partnerships that you’ve developed with the private sector to provide that training,” he said.