Worker Retraining Funds Running Out

By Staff
October 13, 2009

Unemployed workers in need of retraining are finding that in some areas, there's simply not enough funding left.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that last month, the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board informed its staff that it was suspending new training vouchers because requests already exceeded available funding.

"We're just projecting out at this point what it would take to complete the commitments that we have," explained Don Sykes, president and chief executive officer of the board.

The situation is the result of an extreme demand for retraining that cannot be adequately addressed, even with $16 million in federal stimulus funds designated for displaced workers. The Sentinel notes that through the first nine months of this year, the number of laid off workers from plant closings was 31 percent more than a year ago, and nearly triple what it was in September 2007. Meanwhile, initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits are 18 percent higher this year than in 2008.

"We are working with our partners to do all that we can to help dislocated workers return to work and speed the nation's economic recovery," said Richard Jones, a spokesman for Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development. The agency is working with local workforce boards to apply for more federal emergency grants for retraining.

Wisconsin technical colleges, meanwhile, are experiencing a surge in enrollment. The La Crosse Tribune reports that at Western Technical College, which provides worker retraining, enrollment has jumped 10.5 percent compared to last year. According to Patti Blacek, director of business and industry services at Western, classes that concentrate of manufacturing skills are full and have waiting lists, and other programs are in demand as well.

"Western has a certain capacity to help, but it is limited," she said. "As much as we would love to offer training 24 hours per day, all the time, it is not always feasible."

In Texas, displaced workers are dealing with similar challenges. The Times Record News in Wichita Falls reports that in some areas, designated funding for retraining has already been allocated until next year.

"Everything we have is obligated. That is for people in training and those scheduled for training," said Mona Slatser, executive director of Workforce Solutions North Texas. "We get an allocation once a year. We can request more now, but we are not anticipating getting any because there is only so much allocated by the Feds."

WBIR in Knoxville, Tennessee, reports that other areas are experiencing similar demand. The Tennessee Workforce Development, for example, said that requests for retraining programs have become so popular that the regular annual budget is nearly depleted in addition to stimulus funds.

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