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Workforce training program shifts gears, gives grants to colleges

Idaho’s workforce training program is shifting gears, with the announcement today that it’s awarding grants to Boise State University, North Idaho College and Idaho State University for new programs, backed by local employers, to train graduates for high-paying jobs. BSU will train more computer science graduates; NIC will train students in wood products manufacturing; and ISU will train more physician’s assistants.

Previously, the state workforce training fund, which is funded by a portion of unemployment taxes that businesses pay, doled out training grants to businesses to reimburse them for training workers for new jobs that would pay at least $12 an hour and provide benefits. It’s drawn criticism when big grants were paid out to businesses that then failed. Among the notable failures: The shuttered Hoku plant in Pocatello, and the Micron/Transform Solar project, which received $1.5 million in training grants before closing.

That type of grant is still being awarded; Chobani was promised $3.3 million in training grants for its new Greek yogurt plant in Twin Falls, and Frulac has been awarded a $1.2 million training grant for a new fruit processing center in Rupert.

The grants to the colleges, however, are a departure – the first for the fund since it was established in 1996. They’re part of the fund’s new Industry Sector Grant Initiative, under which grants will go to educational institutions that partner with at least three Idaho businesses to train workers in a target occupation critical to those businesses; the businesses must put up matching funds equal to at least 25 percent of the grant. So at BSU, Clearwater Analytics, Cradlepoint, Focus IP, Hewlett-Packard, Impact Sales, Keynetics, MetaGeek and WhiteCloud Analytics are providing the $310,768 in matching funds for a $1 million grant that will allow the school to double its number of computer science graduates from 30 to 60 a year. Those grads will be trained for jobs that typically pay more than $30 an hour.

At NIC, Idaho Forest Group, Potlatch Corp. and Stimson Lumber are providing the $93,679 in matching funds for a $281,036 grant; at ISU, St. Luke’s, St. Al’s, and Blue Cross of Idaho are putting up the $141,709 match for a $532,180 grant.

You can read the Idaho Department of Labor’s full announcement here about the new initiative and the three grants. More than 200 companies have received grants of more than $45 million from the workforce training fund since it started.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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