Training assistance available for skilled workers

Phil Castle, The Business Times: 

A Grand Junction manufacturer was among the first businesses in Colorado to take advantage of a program offering assistance in training highly skilled workers.

Suzie Miller

It’s a promising start to what Suzie Miller, business services manager at the Mesa County Workforce Center, foresees as a helpful effort. “We’re really excited about the opportunity to offer this to some businesses and hopefully upgrade some skills,” Miller said.

In addition to helping individual employees, Miller said the program could help participating employers become more competitive by improving efficiency, lowering costs or perhaps even expanding their services or product lines. “There are all sorts of possibilities I think we’ll some come out of this that are very positive.”

Colorado received a $5 million grant from the U.S. Labor Department as part of a $240 million national H-1B technical skills training initiative.

The initiative is funded in part by the fees employers pay to bring foreign workers to the U.S. under the H-1B nonimmigrant visa program. The initiative is designed to raise the technical skills of U.S. workers and subsequently reduce the number of foreign workers needed to fill those positions.

Miller said the initiative focuses on a different part of the work force, one that involves what are typically higher salaries.

The initiative targets a list of highly skilled occupations, including computer programmers, engineers, industrial designers, information technology managers and scientists. The initiative similarly targets the information technology, manufacturing and scientific and technical services sectors.

People in those positions sometimes work in other sectors, though, Miller said. That means assistance is potentially available to a broader range of businesses. “If we get creative with it, we can serve a larger base.”

Fully 70 percent of the funding for training assistance is earmarked for workers who are already employed, Miller said. Assistance is available for training on site or at local institutions as well as for short-term certificate programs or even long-term degree programs in some cases, she said.

The remaining 30 percent of funding is earmarked for long-term unemployed workers who would benefit from training to upgrade their skills and re-enter the work force.

Employers are required to match training grants, but may do so in various ways, Miller said — paying employees to participate in training or hosting trainings on site, for example. Considering the benefits involved, the cost of the match is inexpensive, she said.

Wren Industries, a Grand Junction company that provides services to the aerospace industry as well as products for search and rescue teams, was one of the first businesses in Colorado to participate in the program, Miller said. Three employees received training in quality assurance.

Miller hopes other businesses and their employees also will participate. “I think it’s a fairly business-friendly program.”