January 30, 2010 in News

Retraining programs bring hope to the unemployed

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Dana Moosman, 57, right, takes the blood pressure reading of fellow student Jodi Carey, left, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010 at Spokane Community College where both are enrolled in the medical assistant program. Mooseman, a former teacher and mortgage lender, is taking advantage of tuition assistance that goes along with the program.
(Full-size photo)

Deadline approaching

The deadline for enrollment is Feb. 22 for all the programs, with the exception of the federal Washington Investment Act, which allows enrollment up to the first day of classes. For more information about the free or low-cost tuition programs, call (509) 533-8906.

Dana Moosman never saw unemployment on the horizon.

With a master’s degree in education and five years in the mortgage insurance business, she figured the outlook was promising, or at least steady. But the economy hit harder than she imagined.

It’s clear – with a national unemployment rate of 10 percent and a Washington state rate of 9.5 percent – that the Spokane Valley woman’s situation is familiar to many.

As Moosman discovered, though, it’s not hopeless.

Community colleges throughout the state offer a variety of state- and federally funded programs that essentially provide a free college education or job training for in-demand fields to qualified applicants.

The Workforce Investment Act, for example, is paid for through federal stimulus money and funds worker education in fields such as health care, software development, network design and administration and aircraft maintenance. With President Barack Obama proclaiming jobs a priority in last week’s State of the Union address, more funding is likely to come.

Moosman was thrilled when she learned about the program, which started in Spokane at the beginning of the year.

“I went to WorkSource to ask what the job opportunities were around Spokane,” Moosman said. They pointed her toward health care and told her that money was available to pay for her tuition, books and fees. “A yearlong program, almost a guaranteed job – my husband said, why not do it?”

Now, at age 57, Moosman is embarking on her third career: medical assistant.

While her program will take 12 months, others are shorter. Project management, for example, is only one quarter; those three months alone can make a person more marketable, college officials say. Aircraft maintenance takes about six months.

Aside from the federal program, there are also education and training possibilities available to people on state assistance; those who’ve been laid off from a job that’s no longer in demand; and the low-income and unemployed, said WorkSource spokesman Mark Varadian.

First step is

an assessment

WorkSource partners with Community Colleges of Spokane on programs to help people get back into the work force.

Statewide, nearly 19,000 people received training at community colleges and technical schools last year in programs ranging from GED preparation to Workforce Investment Act apprenticeships, Varadian said. That’s about 8,000 more than did so in 2008, he said. About 39,000 people who visited WorkSource were referred to college training opportunities, up by 14,000 from the previous year.

When a person goes to WorkSource, the first step is an assessment focusing on a person’s strengths and abilities as well as where he or she can improve skills to become more employable.

“If they were in a field that is no longer in demand, the retraining is what is going to get them back to work,” Varadian said.

For example, news reporters. The economy and a steep advertising downturn has meant cutbacks in news staffs statewide; many of those who are out of work won’t be able to find another job in the profession, Varadian said. But those workers’ skills are applicable to other fields, such as medical writing, with some additional training, he said.

“What we are seeing are a lot of people who are out of work in fields where we haven’t previously seen high unemployment numbers,” Varadian said.

Range of programs available locally

Some of the free or low-cost training programs available locally include:

•The Opportunity Grant, launched in 2007-’08, is directed at low-income adults and provides training and education for in-demand careers. Those fields currently include health care jobs, automotive technology and welding.

To qualify, a person must be a Washington resident for at least a year before enrollment; be earning up to $1,733 a month for a single person; fill out a free federal aid application; apply for admission to Spokane Community College; and be a first-time degree candidate. Other requirements include meeting with a grant coordinator and attending financial management and test-taking workshops.

•People receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, can get free job training through the WorkFirst program if they meet certain income levels; for example, a monthly income for a family of four at or below $3,216 or $38,588 annually. The program, which is also available to people who were on TANF in the previous two years, pays for tuition, books and fees if a person is working and enrolled in a vocational or one-year program at Community Colleges of Spokane.

•The Worker Retraining Program offers tuition assistance – up to $1,300 a year – to people who are receiving unemployment or are eligible to get it, displaced homemakers previously supported by a spouse, people who were formerly self-employed, or veterans who were honorably discharged in the last two years.

Worker Retraining may also help people who are still working but not in an in-demand field, have less than a year of college credits or need new skills to remain employed.

Christy Doyle, work force education director at Spokane Community College, said most no- or low-cost training programs are state or federally funded, but sometimes they partner with local organizations such as SNAP or the Spokane Workforce Development Council.

The Workforce Investment Act, Opportunity Grant, WorkFirst and Worker Retraining programs are available at most community colleges throughout the state as well as Community Colleges of Spokane.

Nearly 550 people have taken advantage of these programs during the fall and winter terms at Spokane Community College alone.


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