Alfredo Ramirez
Northrop Grumman’s Alfredo Ramirez speaks at the kickoff for Advancing San Diego. Photo by Chris Jennewein

San Diego business and educational leaders celebrated the kickoff Thursday of a $3 million grant by JPMorgan Chase to help local schools and businesses train the next generation of workers.

The Advancing San Diego project is a partnership with the San Diego Regional EDC, the city of San Diego, community colleges across the region and both large and small businesses.

“We are a firm believers in collaboration. We are proud to invest $3 million in San Diego over the next three years,” said Tony Sciarrino, a JPMorgan Chase managing director, at the launch event at the San Diego Central Library. San Diego was one of five cities to receive a grant as part of the New York bank’s AdvancingCities initiative.

Most of the money will support paid internships, especially in STEM jobs — science, technology, engineering and math — at local employers.

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman, which employs over 5,000 in the San Diego area, sees the program as a way to develop local engineering talent and stop “poaching from each other” and offset hiring from out-of-state.

“Northrop Grumman is here helping to prepare the workforce for the future,” said Vice President of Engineering Alfredo Ramirez. “We’re part of the local innovation economy, and this will allow us to keep more San Diegans in San Diego.”

It’s not just large employers — nearly half of the grant funds will provide internships and services for small businesses that need talent.

“We know 90% of our businesses are small businesses,” said Kris Michell, chief operating officer for the city. “We need to ensure we have the workforce for those businesses.”

Many of the companies hoping to turn interns into employees are in the software field. Dawn Barry, co-founder and president at LunaDNA, said the region needs 7,200 entry-level software engineers over the next three years.

“No matter what your experience level, it’s a great time to be in software,” she said.

Mark Cafferty, president and CEO of the EDC, said the Advancing San Diego program is significantly different that previous training efforts because of its focus on small business and under-served communities.

“If you’re only collaborating with part of the community, you’re only going to continue to get the exact same results,” he said. “We need to ensure that the benefits of our region’s growing innovation economy are reaching all San Diegans.”

The EDC and its Inclusive Growth Steering Committee of 40 employers have endorsed a regional goal to double the number of new skilled workers entering the San Diego economy to 20,000 per year by 2030.

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.