New federal grants aim to retrain Minnesota's laid-off workers

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 25, 2014 - 10:22 PM

Minnesota gets money to focus on helping the long-term unemployed.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday that it will issue $154.7 million in job retraining grants to 32 states, including Minnesota.

The Job-Driven National Emergency Grants, with $919,000 slated for Minnesota, are designed to help retrain Americans who have been laid off through no fault of their own. The emphasis will be on getting new skills for the long-term unemployed, which now represent a third of all jobless workers, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said.

“Providing workers with access to the skills training they need … will help punch their ticket to the middle class,” Perez said. “We know job-driven training programs work. And they are often the best way to provide real ladders of opportunity.”

Officials would not say how many Americans they expect will be helped by the grants. But they noted that the effort is the third in a series of funds worth hundreds of millions of dollars that aim to lower the unemployment rate through retraining and skills development. Most of those efforts target the states and job training programs performed at state or city agencies, community colleges, corporations and workforce centers.

38 applications came in

For the grants announced Thursday, the departments of Labor and Commerce worked together and received 38 applications from states and territories. In the end, 32 states, Puerto Rico and one Cherokee tribe were chosen to receive grants.

Each state applicant submitted a detailed plan stating how it intended to use the money. In most cases, the states plan to use the funds to help employers create apprenticeships, internships or on-the-job training. The grants also will help bolster job training programs at various state agencies and community colleges, said U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Most states, including Minnesota, plan to push the training funds into programs that teach job seekers new skills in advanced manufacturing, information technology, health care or transportation.

Portia Wu, assistant secretary of the Employment and Training Administration, said Minnesota is particularly interested in creating apprenticeships in energy production, transportation, finance, health and skilled manufacturing companies.

Pritzker said the grants should address a key concern among corporate executives who complain that they can’t find qualified workers for their factories. “I have spoken to more than 1,000 CEOs and business leaders around the country and across the board they have told me that finding the right workers to fill available jobs is a top challenge they are facing.”

Jane Samargia, executive director of Minneapolis-based HIRED, is anxious to see the details of the new federal grants. HIRED helps run the state’s dislocated workers program and has received Labor grants in the past.

But several federal grants recently expired. In the past, the grants paid for hundreds of clients’ tuition, expenses associated with on-the-job training and support services for the unemployed. The grants taught clients welding and soldering skills as well as how to run computerized machinery, she said.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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