Work in progress: Center leads state in career development efforts

Phil Castle, The Business Times

The team working on career development programs at the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction includes, clockwise from bottom left, Megan Fry, Anjuli Jackson, Karen Sightler, Ashley Park, Christina Pierce, Lindsay Bullock and Renee Patterson. Between January and May, the staff worked with a total of 142 people enrolled in on-the-job-training and internships programs, the most of any workforce center in Colorado. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Curtis Englehart believes it’s important not only for new hires to bring the right skills to jobs, but also constitute good fits for businesses and their staffs.

That’s why the director of the Mesa County Workforce Center in Grand Junction says he’s so pleased with the latest numbers for career development programs offered at the center that promote those attributes while also reducing risk for employers.

Between January and May this year, the workforce center worked with a total of 142 people enrolled in internship and on-the-job training programs. That’s the most of any center in Colorado, including those with larger staffs and more funding.

“To me, what is says is we’re very efficient in what we do,” Englehart says.

There’s another number Englehart tracks, and that’s the proportion of people still working for the same employers a year after starting the programs. In Mesa County, it’s 83 percent.
“That’s extremely high.”

The numbers are all the more important at a time when Mesa County businesses face labor shortages and struggle to fill job openings, he says. The programs help in recruiting and retaining employees while reducing the cost of that process.

“It’s a slam dunk, and we want more employers to take advantage of it.”

Curtis Englehart

Englehart credits Lindsay Bullock, supervisor of career development at the Mesa County Workforce, and her team. “It’s a blessing to be able to work with them on a daily basis.”

Bullock also shares the credit. “I am very proud of the efforts of my team, they are all amazing.”

Englehart says the center offers on-the-job training and internship programs for adults, dislocated workers and youth and young adults age 16 to 24 years old.

The center covers the pay for interns for up to 29 hours a week. The center reimburses employers 50 percent to 75 percent of the wages for those involved in on-the-job training.

The goal is to place workers in permanent positions when they’ve completed the programs, but employers aren’t obligated to do so, Englehart says. The important thing is to find the right fit not only for employers looking to fill positions, but also job seekers looking for meaningful employment. “It’s really a great way to make sure you’re hiring for fit.”

The workforce center assists in the process in screening candidates and assessing their skills, he says.

In covering wages paid to interns and those receiving on-the-job training, the programs reduce financial risk to employers trying out applicants, Englehart says. 

The programs also reduce the pressure to hire applicants even if they aren’t necessarily a good fit.

But the majority of those applicants who complete the programs and are hired become good employees — as reflected in the high retention rates, he says.

“It’s low risk, high reward.”

In addition to on-the-job training and internship programs, the Mesa County Workforce Center pays for short-term occupational training for those who fill positions in high demand, Englehart says. That includes those who receive certified nursing assistance designations and commercial drivers licenses.

Still other services are available, he says, including assistance in purchasing clothing and equipment required for some jobs and even gasoline to get to work.

For employers, the center offers assistance with job fairs and customized hiring events.

The numbers aren’t yet available for the latest program year. But for the 2019 program year, he says the Mesa County Workforce Center served 14,277 customers and 832 employers. In the process, the center helped in filling 1,660 job openings and saved local employers more than $2 million.

Those numbers belie the funding the center receives under a federal formula, Englehart says — among the lowest levels in Colorado. 

Staffing levels are also lower at the Mesa County center than at workforce centers in other populous counties in the state, he says.

The center has been successful nonetheless in connecting employers and employees and helping them make good fits, Englehart says.

 And while the center already leads the state in its career development programs,  he says he’s hopeful to involve even more employers and employees in those efforts. “Yes, we’re leading the state. But that doesn’t mean we’re satisfied with that.”

For more information about career development programs offered at the Mesa County Workforce Center, call 248-7560 or visit https://mcwfc.us.