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Training for laid-off workers lagging

The recession has created a steady parade of people who have lost their jobs and need training or retraining.

In Jackson and Josephine counties, nearly 18,000 people are looking for work, while another 9,000 "discouraged workers" have given up looking for a job.

Hard times have brought 14,000 people in the two counties to state offices in search of jobs or training, said Jim Fong, executive director for the Job Council in Medford and president of the Oregon Workforce Partnership Board.

Fong said the Oregon Workforce Partnership and its regional boards are pursuing state funding for training.

"We'd like to see candidates make that part of their platform," Fong said. "We rely 100 percent on federal dollars for work force training."

Statewide, 110 business executives sit on local work force boards, in addition to scores of others who serve on roundtables and subcommittees.

One of their objectives is to reverse a decade-long trend in which Oregon's per-capita income has fallen to 90 percent of the national average, while its work force is lacking the skills to fill half of the jobs created for workers with a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.

"Investing in job training is one of the best ways to extend job creation," Fong said. "We need a different way to think about how we do some of this work so we can grow jobs and the economy. We need summer youth programs so we won't produce a lost generation."

Last week, the Oregon Workforce Partnership announced it is promoting a three-fold strategy:

  • Grow jobs by aligning incentives and programs to maximize job growth, while targeting critical industries with high growth potential and/or a large number of replacement jobs.
  • Align work force and education programs to create a comprehensive, articulated, skill-development system. Build on recent investments in career pathways, system integration, youth employment, on-the-job training and current worker training.
  • Expand the role of local work force investment boards, assuring skill-building aligns with the needs of industry.

Even if the economy were blazing along, the program would be necessary, Fong said.

Industry and work force developers face a moving target when it comes to training. Skills a company desires today might become obsolete tomorrow.

"It takes continual work to line up systems so we can get optimal flow to meet business needs in real time," Fong said. "I don't think it's possible to line up 100 percent of the time because we're dealing with market economies.

"We wouldn't see as many people coming through the doors, but they would still need skills training," he said. "We started this even before the recession because employers were saying they weren't finding employees with the skills they needed."

Some of those skills, Fong conceded, involve simply "showing up on time" and being able to relate to fellow employees and supervisors. But computer training is popular among the unemployed and underemployed.

"We fill up all the Excel classes," Fong said.

Manufacturers have requested training for Crystal Reports database software and automated process-control systems.

"It's not your grandfather's kind of manufacturing," Fong said. "Everything is done though computers and requires advanced computer knowledge."

The Rogue Valley Workforce Development Council launched its PowerUp Academy 20 months ago. Since then, 1,017 people from 171 companies have attended 150 one-day and half-day workshops.

Toss in repeat customers, and the program reports 2,800 training experiences, ranging from computer and first-aid classes to forklift and leadership training.

"In the last few months we've opened up to laid-off and dislocated workers," Fong said.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

Training for laid-off workers lagging