President Obama is expected to deliver a jobs plan after Labor Day.

Obama has been criticized on the right for spending too much money. And he's been criticized on the left for the 2008-09 bailout of big financial institutions and a plan to cut long-term federal deficits while doing little to stimulate hiring.

Steve Cramer is CEO of Project for Pride in Living (PPL), one of the Twin Cities' largest nonprofit housing and employment-training agencies. Dorian Morris is a PPL board member, a skilled laborer at Olympic Steel in Plymouth and a graduate of PPL training programs. They have some experience with creating jobs that policymakers could make use of.

Many of PPL's hundreds of trainees every year are first-generation immigrants, high-school dropouts, former offenders who turn to nonprofits to get high school equivalency degrees and computer and jobs skills training. Unemployment is estimated at 25 percent or more among this population.

Q Dorian, you are an ex-offender and you know unemployment. Now, you are a leader on the shop floor and in your community. Did job training help you?

A I studied while I was in Stillwater prison and worked. I took courses at PPL, worked at PPL Furnish Office & Home business, and also took courses in manufacturing and recycling and waste reduction. I'm a certified building inspector. Training gave me the ability to seek things that I once thought were beyond my reach. I have confidence now. Olympic is sending me to Minneapolis Community and Technical College to finish my associate's degree. I'm not too far away from it.

Q Dorian, many economists have encouraged President Obama to invest billions of dollars by subsidizing the wages of new hires by small businesses, which were the hardest hit by the Great Recession. The reasoning is that it's better for the worker, the business and our country to subsidize training and work rather than simply extending unemployment benefits.

A I would tell President Obama that we need to offer incentives to small-business people and small contractors who may need a little help to hire people. Big business can afford to pick and choose in this environment. I see college kids trying for any job. There are small businesses who want to hire, but the economy is still a bit soft. ... They can use another worker to help drive business. A subsidy or tax credit would be a great thing. ... It won't cost the government a lot for long. We'll pay it back with our labor and taxes and spending.

Q Steve, at PPL you provide training and related services to several thousand folks annually, right?

A We focus on hard skills and soft (interpersonal and communications) skills. We have a couple tracks. We train and employ people at Furnish Office & Home that employs up to 75 and at PPL Industries [assembly and light manufacturing]. They get training, a work history of up to 18 months and we can vouch for them with employers.

The second track is through our Emma B. Howe Learning Center [at Chicago and Franklin avenues in south Minneapolis]. We have employment partners such as Allina Hospitals and Children's Hospitals and U.S. Bank and many others.

Our job, and they help us, is to figure out what employers need and we help the folks who come through our doors with five or six weeks of study and training. That often includes "job shadowing" with employers and matching people with likely employers and that improves their chances exponentially. We place more than 200 people annually. [Afterward] we will stick with them and the employer for up to a year or year-and-a-half as needed with retention services.

In all, we have a few thousand who come annually for specific education and training, workshops, counseling and other services. Many go on to jobs.

Q Steve, what jobs policy would you like to see out of Washington, D.C., and St. Paul?

A We've got to have jobs, particularly for those with some barriers to employment; for whom the emerging economy of [high-skill] information and technology may not provide immediate jobs.

We had a wage-subsidy program in Minnesota in 1982-83 that really worked. Tens of billions have been spent to indirectly stimulate the economy; more of a trickle-down approach. Where are the jobs? Perhaps it's time for a more direct approach, targeted at small businesses, but wherever a job could be created.

Q How would such a program work?

A The employer makes a commitment to a job and a wage. There's a few dollars of subsidy paid through the state workforce program [for six months or so]. Employers want to hire people and believe that the sales volume will increase to the point where it will sustain hiring. More people working means more consumption.

Q In 2010, Sen. Al Franken introduced a bill, based in part on the research of Tim Bartik, an economist with the Upjohn Institute in Michigan, who says the cheapest, fastest way to reduce unemployment is through wage supplements for at least some idled workers. What do you think of that approach?

A It can work. We need to train people and give them work. In the long term, we're going to need more trained workers to replace the aging baby boomers. We need to work toward a political consensus on this.

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144