March 22, 2012; Source: Detroit Free Press

Did you know that Focus: HOPE, a long admired workforce development organization in Detroit, had suspended its entire job-training program last year? Apparently, it shut down its job training operations when its “$5.86 million in annual federal funding was slashed.” The Michigan Workforce Development Agency is now going to give Focus: HOPE $2.35 million, which will allow the organization to restart its programs in 2012.

The federal government defunds a recognized, generally lauded nonprofit job-training program? In Detroit? What gives?

After last December’s announcement of its layoff of 70 of 300 employees and the shutdown of its training program, Focus: HOPE recruited 30 University of Michigan MBA students to help it evaluate its programs and finances. Since the announcement, other groups have helped Focus: HOPE find private funding to keep its programs going. Earlier this month, a furniture manufacturer donated $1 million, the General Motors Foundation gave $2.5 million, and the members of the Detroit Economic Club raised $3 million.

GM, the furniture company, and Ford Motors all contributed as part of a fundraiser in honor of Eleanor Josaitis, the co-founder of Focus: HOPE who died last year. But can a nonprofit job training program helping Detroiters get the skills to find jobs in the state’s dwindling manufacturing sector or in its emerging high tech, knowledge-based economy survive and thrive—and deliver effective programs—based on heroic charitable fundraising efforts as federal programs get slashed? What does it say to the underemployed and unemployed of Detroit that the federal government is cutting the programs that give them access to the on-ramp of gainful employment? –Rick Cohen