State dollars assist in funding for employee training

Heath Boe, rural workforce coordinator with the Northeast Minnesota Office of Job Training.

Carrie Claybundy is dealing with issues that many rural small businesses are faced with: workforce retention. The acting administrator at Koochiching Health Services – a non-profit, religious based organization – has staffing shortages because new employees lack necessary skills.

If only she had the funds to train her veteran employees in how to coach incoming staff. Enter the Northeast Minnesota Office of Job Training Talent Development Program (TDP).

Since October 2016, the program has been assisting area manufactures, healthcare providers, non-profit organizations, schools and other employers with financial help to train and upgrade the skills of their existing workers. While the program is broad and doesn’t focus on any specific business sector, there are a few stipulations:

  • Businesses that request training funds must be located in Minnesota and be in continuous operation for 18 months prior to the application.
  • They cannot be in the process of a layoff. Should a layoff occur while the company has an open TDP grant, workers however will be able to complete the training.
  • Employees who receive the training must be at least 18 years old and full-time employed with the company seeking the grant (a minimum of 32 hours per week).
  • The employees must earn an hourly wage above the state minimum and agree to cooperate with data collection requirements.
  • A maximum of $25,000 in grant funds is available per employer per year. Businesses must contribute a portion of the training costs through direct cost contribution or in-kind contributions based on the employer size.
  • An operation with 50 or fewer employees is asked to cover 10 percent of the training cost; one with 51 to 100 employees would cover 25 percent, and an employer with more than 100 employees is responsible for 50 percent of the training cost.

“Typically, the sum that a company is paying their employees in regular wages and benefits while they are at training equals almost the amount they are required to match,” said Heath Boe, rural workforce coordinator with the Northeast Minnesota Office of Job Training and administrator of the program.

Claybundy connected with Boe through the local workforce center. Now she is preparing a mentor training for up to 25 employees. It’s designed to increase employee retention.

“We are giving our longtime staff the education on how to coach other people. What do adults need to learn from another? What are the outcomes we are trying to achieve? When new employees come on board, we want to take good care of them and make sure they want to stay.”

In addition to the mentor program, Claybundy is also collaborating with Itasca Community College to receive trainings that will lead to certified nursing assistants. To date, four staff members have obtained the certification through the TDP. Plans for 10 employees to become trained medication assistants are in place.

The program will pay for soft skills trainings such as leadership or management education, as well as computer-, technical-, or industry-specific skills.  Boe explained that some companies have received funds so their employees can complete a certified boiler attendant course. Another firm requested financial aid for a customer service in healthcare curriculum.

“We like to focus our efforts on transferable skills – trainings that end up with a certificate so that employees can articulate them on their resume,” Boe said.

When asked what circumstances led to the development of the program, he explained, “A lot of employers are only emerging from the Great Recession. Money is still tight and training seems to be one of the first things that gets cut. It’s a business measure that can be put off without having an immediate impact in the day-to-day operation. We picked up on that.”

He referenced construction companies that after a hiring phase are finally back to full-staff, but whose new hires lack skills such as fork-lift training. Educating these people and bringing them to “full speed” adds flexibility to those companies’ schedules.

The TDP is modeled after a very successful Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services (CMJTS) program. It’s funded through the state of Minnesota and is using money from the Dislocated Workers Program. With more employees returning to work, especially after some Iron Range mines have reopened, unused funding was made available to the TDP training efforts.

After evaluating TDP’s first year, spanning from July 2016 through June 30, 2017, Boe intends to petition to again use a portion of the Dislocated Workers dollars. However, since that funding is variable, his team is seeking other monetary sources to continue the TDP.

Going forward, the Northeast Minnesota Office of Job Training would like to expand the program to part-time employees as well.

Regionally, more than 40 employers have asked about the training funding grants, with 20 actively investigating whether the training they seek is eligible for the program. Eight companies have submitted applications and are in the midst of their approval process. Five are receiving training at this point.

“The approval is fairly short – about two to three weeks if there aren’t any questions about the application,” explained Boe. Likewise, Canterbury remembers the application to be straight forward and relatively easy.

“The TPD program has been well received, and employers are saying it helps make their business more robust and become more immune to downturns,” Boe said.  

Claybundy agreed and is intends to apply for the training funds again next year.

For more information on the Talent Development Program or to obtain an application, contact Heath Boe, rural workforce coordinator for the Northeast Minnesota Office of Job Training at 218-735-6174 (desk), 218-248-0306 (cell) or heath.boe@nemojt.org.