Local employers offered hiring incentive

Firms' training costs will be offset if they hire the long-term jobless

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian Port & Economy Reporter



Regional workforce development leaders are encouraging Southwest Washington employers to take advantage of an incentive program aimed at putting long-term unemployed people back to work.

To that end, the Southwest Washington Workforce Development Council said Thursday it has $30,000 to offset the training costs of employers if they’ll hire people who’ve been out of work for at least five months.

The pot of money is what’s left of an initial $200,000 in “on-the-job training” funds — delivered by way of federal stimulus dollars — that have been available since July 1, 2011.

However, only 24 employers in Clark, Cowlitz and Wahkiakum counties have taken advantage of the money. So the Workforce Development Council — the Vancouver-based nonprofit that oversees job training programs and helps employers recruit workers in the region — is making a push to put the remaining money to use.

Employers who are recruiting for permanent hires over the next 30 days, and who are interested in the training dollars, have until Friday, May 11, to act. Otherwise, the pot of federal dollars — the availability of which expires by June 30 — will go to another community. “We don’t want the region to lose out on these funds,” said Jordana Barclay, director of employment and training services for the Workforce Development Council.

Employers may contact Darcy Hoffman, Southwest Washington business services liaison for WorkSource, at 360-735-5038 or DHoffman@esd.wa.gov.

The availability of the training funds comes as Clark County, which harbors the bulk of Southwest Washington’s population, struggles with a jobless rate of roughly 11 percent.

Employers in the county added only a net 700 jobs in the 12 months through March. Cowlitz County’s estimated unemployment rate in March was 12 percent. In Wahkiakum County, it was 11.9 percent.

“With economists predicting a sluggish recovery, we must exhaust every means possible to make it easier for employers to help get our people back to work,” Jeanne Bennett, executive director of the Workforce Development Council, said in a news release Thursday.

The five most common occupational backgrounds of job seekers in Southwest Washington are office and administration, production, sales, construction and management, according to the Workforce Development Council.

Criteria for employers to qualify for the training money include paying employees at least $10 per hour. Those hired must be from the three-county area.

The amount of training dollars that may go to an employer depends on the wage the employer pays a worker and on the amount of time needed to develop a worker’s skill level to meet the employer’s needs, Barclay said.

So, for example, if an employer estimates it will cost $3,000 over two months to bring a person’s skill level up to speed, Barclay said, then the training money would reimburse the employer for half that cost, or $1,500.

Despite the stigma that has been attached to the long-term unemployed, Barclay said, many of them possess strong skills — they’re just up against an economy that has remained weak for an extended period of time.

In February, 23,590 Clark County residents were unemployed, according to Scott Bailey, regional economist for the state Employment Security Department. Of those, an estimated 42 percent, or nearly 10,000, were considered among the long-term unemployed. That’s “reasonably close” to the national rate, Bailey said. And that’s counting only those Clark County residents who filed for unemployment insurance in Washington state’s system.

Barclay said the hope is to grab the attention of employers with the training money, especially those who might be on the fence about hiring because they face high training costs.

“This will help alleviate that burden,” she said.

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com.

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