Seattle Jobs Initiative began in 1995 when Seattle, along with five other cities, was chosen by the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) as a part of its Jobs Initiative program to link low-income/low-skilled adults to businesses with good paying jobs. AECF had many goals including improved job training programs and workforce development system reform, and an overarching interest in improving outcomes for children and families by improving access and opportunities that would lead to economic self-sufficiency.
At the time, Seattle, under then-Mayor Norm Rice, had already been making specific efforts to link economic development and workforce development to benefit low-income communities and communities of color. Mayor Rice realized that working in conjunction with AECF objectives was the answer to the 1996 Welfare Reform Act cutbacks. As federal policy reduced opportunities for job training for low-income individuals, Mayor Rice was looking for ways to do things differently. He created a partnership with AECF and Seattle's Office of Economic Development (OED) to create SJI, which would combine job-skills training, wrap around services and business involvement to connect low-income individuals with living-wage jobs.
A year-long planning effort by OED in conjunction with low-income residents, businesses, foundations, community colleges and community-based organizations produced the blueprint for SJI's approach. In 1997, after another year of capacity building and pilot programs, SJI was officially launched as a program of OED. In January 2003, SJI spun off from the city and established itself as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Today, SJI continues to function as a workforce development intermediary, committed to improving the local workforce development system to benefit low-income job seekers.