Janesville20.3°

Funding is available for laid-off workers

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JAMES P. LEUTE
August 4, 2008
— Thanks to federal and state funding for displaced workers, JoLene West of Janesville is three weeks away from opening a new chapter in her life.

West, who was laid off in June after nine years at LSI, soon will start class work in the Certified Nursing Assistant program at Blackhawk Technical College.


She says it's "the bottom of the barrel" in the nursing field, but it's an entree that she's thrilled to have after her employer laid off 132 employees when its primary customer, General Motors, slashed production in Janesville.


West, who hopes to do her clinicals later this year and see where the health care field leads her, isn't alone in her search for a new career.


GM triggered the area's layoffs when it said it would cut 852 jobs because of a dwindling market for the full-size sport utility vehicles built here. Lear Corp. and United Industries in Beloit, both GM suppliers, laid off 336 and 109 workers, respectively.


"There are a lot of people looking for work right now," said Shannon Moe, manager of the Rock County Job Center in Janesville, which usually sees about 300 people a day but this summer has been averaging 400 to 450 daily visitors.


"All they need to do is walk in the door, say they're dislocated and that they need some help."


But they should do it sooner rather than later, Moe and others say. Through the U.S. Department of Labor and Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, money is available to help workers who have been displaced through no fault of their own.


Laid-off workers are generally eligible for state unemployment compensation, which runs 26 to 52 weeks, depending upon how much money a worker draws each week. Laid-off GM union workers, however, have negotiated for supplemental pay from the company that extends their benefits much longer than those of Lear or LSI workers.


Funding and programs are available to help dislocated workers with career counseling, skills assessment, developing a re-employment plan, job search assistance and placement, workshops and job training, Moe said.


Just last week, the state applied for a $3.8 million federal grant to further aid dislocated workers.


The Department of Labor recently denied a petition filed on behalf of LSI workers for certification into the department's Trade Adjustment Allowance program, which would extend unemployment and training benefits for up to 130 weeks.


The department said workers at LSI, which sequences parts into the GM plant, were ineligible because they don't make a product.


A petition on behalf of GM workers likely will be filed in September, but its likelihood of certification is uncertain because the TAA program focuses on jobs lost to foreign competition. Industry observers have said the GM job losses are more the result of a struggling domestic economy and high gas prices than imports.


Moe said the biggest impact for workers whose companies aren't TAA certified will be from the loss of extended unemployment compensation, not the loss of training funds.


Most of the training programs that the job center funds don't extend to 130 weeks, she said.


"We have various pots of money, and we'll spend what people need," she said. "We won't set anyone up for failure. We'll work with them, assess what's best for them and then go from there.


"Maybe they need an eight-week program, and we can save some money to help someone else who might need an 18-month program. It's all customized."


Moe said that dislocated workers who are not taking advantage of the job center are throwing opportunities away.


West, the laid-off LSI worker, agreed.


She's had countless conversations with other laid-off workers who are amazed to learn that her 10-week BTC program, which will cost more that $1,000, is not costing her a thing.


"A lot of people have heard that we won't get TAA benefits and just assume that means there's no chance for them to go back to school," said West, who is getting about $300 a week in state unemployment compensation.


"That's not true at all. I tell people, ‘Don't wait. Do what you can as soon as you can because the programs and jobs are going to fill up fast.'"


Roberta Gassman, secretary of the Department of Workforce Development, said the state's dislocated worker program served almost 13,000 workers last year.


Of those who completed the program, 85 percent found new jobs, she said, adding that more than 90 percent of those who found jobs remain employed.


"We've been very busy the last few weeks," said the job center's Moe. "We're prepared for people who are upset about losing a job, people who are upset that they can't get an appointment for a week or two.


"But people have been extremely understanding, and success for us is if we can help them find work and never see them again."



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