About 81 percent of African-American residents of north Minneapolis have high school diplomas or the equivalent, 36 percent have attended some college or have two-year degrees or some job training, and 12 percent have bachelor’s degrees. At the same time, just over half of all black men under age 65 — about 5,600 people — are unemployed. And that statistic helps explain why the average annual household income in parts of the North Side is less than $25,000.

To increase incomes and improve lives in the economically challenged area, the Northside Funders Group is launching a smart, new initiative to connect black men with meaningful, well-paying employment. Called North@Work, the purpose is to help 2,000 black men get and keep living-wage jobs by 2020. It’s not a garden-variety training program that sends men into the workforce with a certificate. Rather, program designers studied the issues for about a year to learn more about effective workforce development.

North@Work Director Tawanna Black collected data and interviewed men, neighborhood residents and employers. She found that some previous programs failed because they didn’t offer a comprehensive system of support aimed at both trainees and employers.

The funders group designed a program in which men will be referred by family, friends or others who believe in them. They’ll also receive custom assessments about work that suits their skills, as well as training, placement and continued peer support after they get a job. To become more inclusive, employers will receive help from staffing experts to strengthen hiring, internal training and retention rates.

North@Work aims to serve at least 250 men in 2016 and ramp up to 2,000 in five years. That would lift hundreds of households out of poverty and create stronger families and neighborhoods. For the city and region, boosting male employment would help address the serious worker shortages that are expected in the next 20 years. And it would reduce dependency on social services and add to the tax base.

Northside Funders (northsidefunders.org) is a coalition of private, public and corporate funders that contributes $12 million to $17 million to groups serving north Minneapolis. North@Work is a practical way to better focus those investments for better returns.