Work training funds on way

POLK COUNTY -- Job training and employment assistance agencies in Polk County may get a share of $4 million in federal stimulus funds.



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January Unemployment Figures

POLK COUNTY -- Job training and employment assistance agencies in Polk County may get a share of $4 million in federal stimulus funds.

Oregon is slated to receive part of the $3.25 billion set aside in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to be used for workforce investment.

About $4 million is estimated to be collectively distributed to Marion, Polk and Yamhill counties -- the areas that comprise Region 3 within Gov. Ted Kulongoski's WorkSource Oregon initiative.

Exactly which local organizations will receive dollars -- and how much -- is uncertain. But any amount is "encouraging," said Ken Stillinger, coordinator for the WorkSource Center in Dallas.

About 75 people have been passing through the doors of the center on a daily basis for help since the recession began, roughly a 30-percent increase from 2005, Stillinger said.

"We're seeing all walks," he said. "Right now, there's quite a few (former) Weyerhaeuser workers, there are people from the banking industry ... all sectors are facing big challenges."

Stimulus funds will first pass through the Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development (CCWD), then to Oregon's Workforce Investment Boards and on to agencies in the counties they serve. Amounts will be derived from a formula that accounts for unemployment rates, youth poverty and other factors.

Entities that do job training or provide work resources will compete for funding by submitting requests for proposals, said Pat Grose, executive director of the Enterprise for Employment and Education, which manages and disperses Region 3 resources.

Grose said her agency has been informally alerted that money could arrive by mid-April.

"What portion of that will go to programs, we don't yet know and we don't know if the U.S. Department of Labor is attaching requirements for eligibility for types of programs we provide," she said.

Funds that do come through, however, will be strategically leveraged, she continued. One example is working with the Oregon Department of Housing and Community Services.

"They're going to be doing weatherization projects and they'll require a skilled workforce to do contract work," she said. "We could supply the labor pool to go perform the jobs ... that's the job creation side of the stimulus package."

Independence-based Polk HALO (Helping Achieve Lifelong Objectives), a career guidance and employment program, will be applying for funding.

If successful, director Katherine Bartlett said one idea discussed with the city of Independence is providing a stipend for youth to work as apprentices with whoever is eventually contracted to install the proposed universal playground project in Riverview Park.

Other possibilities includes sending teens on job exploration and leadership events, organizing classes for them to receive OSHA certification, subsidized job placement, even placing HALO participants interested in the mental health field in summer camps that require supervisors for elementary-age children.

Bartlett said one advantageous aspect of the stimulus funds is that maximum age limit for participants in youth summer employment opportunities such as HALO has increased from 17-21 to 17-24.

"A lot of people are going to benefit from this," she said.



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