With tens of millions of people unemployed or underemployed, and with blue-chip industries from automotive to banking in distress, the US workforce sorely needs help. So the new funding for job training provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is a well-timed boon to American workers.
“The [federal] workforce system will play a vital role in America’s economic recovery by assisting workers who are facing unprecedented challenges to retool their skills and reestablish themselves in viable career paths,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis in a statement.
While ARRA money for training won’t by itself put millions back to work, it is a substantial boost to local and state programs that receive federal backing.
“New funding for workforce training and development is about $4 billion -- a huge amount,” says Julian Alssid, executive director of the Workforce Strategy Center, a workforce development think tank in New York City. “The stimulus money is being pushed out very rapidly.”
The major ARRA provisions that will beef up training include:
- $1.25 billion for dislocated adult workers, such as those laid off or who have received advanced notice of a factory closing.
- $1.2 billion for dislocated youth workers.
- $500 million in state grants for employment services, mainly for low-income adults.
- $500 million to fund training for sustainable energy jobs.
Funding for workforce training is seen as more than a stopgap. “The public is investing in the worker,” says Chris Stiehl, a consultant who has researched the Workforce Investment Act since it was enacted in 1998. “We’re now going to be able to reach out and train more people and make them more competitive in the workforce.”
The key to connecting with the new training money is local One-Stop Career Centers, the federal government’s network of more than 3,000 employment-help offices. “If job seekers want to take full advantage of ARRA, they need to be prepared when they arrive at a One-Stop,” Alssid says. “They should get a handle on what good jobs are available in the region, look at what economic development agencies are doing, and think about their own job skills and how they are transferable.”
Alssid gives an example of how workers can use stimulus funding to make the transition from a career in a depressed industry. “Suppose a woman in suburban Cleveland loses her job as a manufacturing technician,” he says. “She might go to the Lake County One-Stop Career Center and be referred to a technical training program in allied health at Lakeland Community College, say, to become a radiologic technologist. She could earn the college’s computed tomography certificate with both coursework and clinical experience.”
Alssid says a One-Stop can give you a voucher to pay for college education. “Think of them as a resource to provide dollars for your retraining,” he says. With the extra stimulus dollars available, “this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Help for Workers Young and Older
ARRA money for job training singles out two demographic groups: young people just entering the workforce and older workers having difficulty finding or keeping a job.
The youth-oriented funding concentrates on preparing future workers and helping them enter the workforce.
“Our department is getting $17 million in stimulus money for the Youth Ready summer program,” says Mary Ellen Messner, director of Youth Ready Chicago, an internship and job-training program of the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services. “About 24,000 young people have already applied. We’ll be able to fund 7,300 additional people with the ARRA money. They’ll learn about career opportunities by participating in activities like job shadowing.” Interested people ages 14 to 24 can call the program or apply online.
ARRA is also making available additional funding for low-income workers age 55 and up. The Senior Community Service Employment Program offers training and placement in part-time service jobs at public agencies and nonprofits. Older workers should also check with their local One-Stop Career Centers about training opportunities.
To learn more about federally funded training opportunities in your area or to contact a specific program, consult your state’s Workforce Investment Act plans or department of labor.