The Richard King Mellon Foundation on Wednesday announced that it has approved more than $2.6 million in grants this year to train workers for “new economy jobs” in such fields as robotics, artificial intelligence and advanced manufacturing.
The foundation has awarded 16 total grants to job-training and career-readiness initiatives, most of which were approved by its board in June. The money already has been given to the organizations.
Foundation director Sam Reiman said the grants are part of the foundation’s new 10-year strategic plan. He said the foundation is “committed to making significant investments in economic development.”
“One of the things we also wanted to make sure we were investing in is individuals’ abilities to obtain the new jobs that will be created as part of all of those efforts,” Reiman said.
That means funding initiatives across the region and across such demographics as age and race. Money will go to organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club of Western Pennsylvania to help grow STEM programs for kids, and Resilient Coders, which offers software engineering bootcamps for predominantly Black young adults.
“We also want to make sure that we are opening up doors for individuals to not only obtain a job but truly a career,” Reiman said. “And to also give them the basic skills that they would need to pursue even further education and to continue to advance their knowledge in a way that would allow them to participate in any one of these industries in a way that truly does allow them to achieve [economic] mobility for themselves, for their families, and to have a totally different life as a result of having access to these jobs.”
The Pittsburgh-based Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute is one of the 16 grant recipients. It received a $250,000 grant for the Keystone Space Collaborative, a group of organizations interested in using robots to manufacture equipment for space exploration.
Justine Kasznica, board chair of the Keystone Space Collaborative, said the grant will be instrumental in getting the collective off the ground and expanding the advanced and additive manufacturing industry in the region.
According to Kasznica, the Keystone Space Collaborative plans to partner with other organizations to help people from underrepresented groups get into the aerospace industry.
“The Keystone Space Collaborative’s founding principles are all about making space accessible to all,” she said. And what we mean by that is essentially breaking down the barriers that exist for entry into the space industry and ecosystem, but also building bridges where we can.”
Many of the jobs and training programs funded by the grants will help people without advanced degrees access well-paying jobs, Reiman said.
“There has been, I think, a myth perpetuated that the only way to participate in this new economy is if you have a PhD in computer science, that these are largely inaccessible jobs,” Reiman said. “We’re trying to break down some of those myths and the perceived barriers for the jobs that are being created by these new industries.”
The grants are part of what Reiman called a “longer” and “more substantial financial commitment” by the foundation to job training and career readiness programs.
“While there hasn’t been any city nationally that’s found a solution to exactly this type of problem, we think Pittsburgh is at the center of inventing a solution that not only works for us in this region, but that could be transferred to other places all around the country,” he said. “If there’s any place that can do this and do it right, we think it’s right here in Pittsburgh.”
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