Minn. out of money for jobless training programby Annie Baxter, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Minnesota has run out of money to subsidize retraining for laid off workers.
Minnesotans who lose their jobs can still use the state's workforce centers for counseling and services like help with resume writing, but about 2,000 people who are on a wait list for retraining subsidies might be waiting a long time, unless a federal grant request comes through.
The recession has meant more Minnesotans have needed help finding jobs. The state has provided job search services to more people in the first eight moths of this fiscal year than in the entire year previous.
Since July, about 6,000 people who have used workforce center services so far this fiscal were looking for additional training.
But there's no job training money left in the $56 million pot of state and federal money this fiscal year, which ends in June.
"We've used it all at this point. We've had unprecedented demand for the program, also unprecedented resources," said Kirsten Morell is spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
Morell said the volume of laid off workers and the duration of their unemployment has taxed the dislocated worker program budget. She said the agency knew the fund would run dry before the fiscal year's end and is applying for additional federal funds.
"We're preparing to apply for a large national emergency grant, about $12 million, that would serve the people on the waiting list and provide additional resources to serve the people affected by layoffs for the rest of this fiscal year. So that funding, if we were successful at getting that, would really provide a great supplement to the program," she said.
Morell said the funds started to run out around January, but since the money is divided up among 16 regional workforce service centers, some areas might have run out sooner than others.
Sue Hilgart, a team leader at the workforce center in Brainerd, said she heard of some regions running out of dislocated worker training funds even last year. Her center's problems have been more recent.
"We didn't come to a point where we had to say okay, we don't have the capacity to serve more people right now, we have to have a waiting list, until just a few weeks ago," Hilgart said.
Hilgart and Morell said that clients should be clear there is not a wait list for basic job search services, like help spiffing up their resume.
If the grant for federal emergency funds doesn't come through, Hilgart said she new training money won't be available until July.
But she says laid off workers should still make their desire for retraining known to job counselors.
"We are still encouraging people to come through the career assessment workshops and our career blueprint workshops to get their training plans in place," Hilgart said.
Kevin McColl of Hastings has been out of work for about a year and money is so tight for him that he can't afford to drive 40 minutes to the nearest workforce center.
He was put on a wait list for retraining money well before the pot of funds ran dry, but military members and people with more work experience are ahead of him on the list.
McColl got laid off doing work in the tech industry but was trained in web development and web design. He's frustrated by the reasons he's on a wait list for dislocated worker training money -- he feels that the form he filled out didn't adequately capture his work history.
And McColl really wants to complete some training that he was getting for Microsoft-certified systems engineers.
"Basically if I can get myself certified in this that or the other thing, it gives me an edge that someone will pay attention to my application," McColl said.
In the meantime, McColl is applying for lots of jobs and moved in with his parents, one of whom is also unemployed. He said the money he pays them in rent helps keep them afloat.
The stakes for getting more retraining money are high for someone like McColl, but they're also high for the state as a whole, said Tom Gillaspy, the state's demographer. He says while job openings seem rare now, as the state's older population retires, replacement workers will be needed.
"We certainly are going to need people with skills and training to be able to fill critical jobs that will be opening up," he said.
Gillaspy's especially worried about people getting trained quickly enough in the health care field, where he says the need for skilled workers is urgent.
- All Things Considered, 03/12/2010, 5:24 p.m.