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PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. – WorkForce Central is teaming up with Palmer Scholars to offer mentorship and scholarships to young adults who want to pursue post-secondary education, including certificate training, two-year college and technical school.

The goal: to help more young people of color in Pierce County attend and successfully complete education and training that will lead to good-paying jobs – especially in the trades, where there is currently a shortage in the talent pipeline.

“Over our 36-year history of serving Pierce County students, Palmer Scholars has become recognized as a leader in the college access and completion space, helping students identify the ‘right fit college,’” Palmer Scholars Executive Director Jonathan Jackson said.

“This partnership is about taking that to the next level, helping students identify the ‘right fit career path’ and becoming recognized as a leader of workforce and economic development. We need more teachers and doctors, yes, but we also need more electricians and pipefitters.”

This project will be different from what Palmer Scholars has previously done to help first-generation college students and students of color in Pierce County. Traditionally, the nonprofit has recruited high schoolers who want to attend a two- or four-year college or university. Most of those students end up at four-year schools.

Palmer Scholars has an all-time graduation rate of 80 percent. Compare that with an average national graduation rate of 11 percent for first-generation college students, and it’s clear this model offers impressive return-on-investment.

With funding from WorkForce Central, the new Palmer Pathways Initiative will seek out young adults aged 16 to 24 who are not in school or working. Tuition and fees will be covered while the students are in school, and Palmer Scholars will provide a mentor for each – ideally, someone who works in the industry that student is pursuing.

“WorkForce Central is pleased to form a partnership with Palmer Scholars to increase the number of young adults accessing and successfully completing post-secondary education,” WorkForce Central CEO Linda Nguyen said.

“With a significant number of jobs currently available and projected growth in all key sectors, it is imperative that we, as a community, support all of our young adults to gain the necessary skills to fully participate in the labor market. Palmer Scholars’ proven model will help us reach this goal.”

In the first year, the Palmer Pathways Initiative will serve 15 students, with plans to bump up that number the following year.

Palmer Scholars was founded in 1983 by R. Merle Palmer, who decided he would commit himself to helping people of color get access to education after being stationed with African American men on a U.S. Navy boat in World War II and seeing they had almost no opportunities to move up in the world, despite their hard work and dedication.

Palmer didn’t do it alone, however: He partnered with Pastor Alfred Davis to create the Eastside Community Church Minority Scholarship Fund, which would later become known as Palmer Scholars.

Last year Palmer Scholars served 172 students, and this year they project they’ll serve 185 students. Several Palmer Scholars alumni are big names in the Tacoma and Pierce County community, including Tacoma City Councilman Keith Blocker and Tacoma Public Schools board member Andrea Cobb.

Connecting young adults who aren’t in school or working to education, training and career opportunities is key to meeting the Pierce County Workforce Development Council’s two bold goals:

  • By 2025, the workforce system will reduce the number of disconnected young adults, ages 16 to 24, by half — from 15,300 to 7,650. “Disconnected” means they’re not working and not enrolled in school.
  • By 2025, the workforce system will reduce the number of residents between the ages of 25 to 64 without a high school diploma or equivalent by half — from 38,475 to 19,237.

Anyone who’s interested in being a mentor for the new Palmer Pathways Initiative should visit, call 253-572-9008 or send an email to

WorkForce Central strengthens the Pierce County economy by identifying skill gaps between jobseekers and employment opportunities, fostering data-driven decision making, and connecting workforce development partners into a cohesive, collaborative and effective network.


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