New program explained at breakfast meeting

Friday, February 15, 2013

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

A new program will allow local employers to try employees before they hire them.

Connect2Work was explained by Sheryl Jordan of the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance at a Breakfast Brainstorm meeting held at Columbia State Community College Wednesday.

The program is available through November, Jordan said, and has $75,000 in funding. It is stricly voluntary for both employers and prospective employees.

The prospective employee may work 24 hours a week for up to eight weeks. They must be in their first 26 weeks of unemployment, and will continue to receive unemployment payments, and no wages. They are required to conduct three additional job searches during the eight-week period.

At any time, if the employer decides they want to hire the person, they can move them into an on-the-job training position, and receive a 50 percent reimbursement of the training wages.

"It keeps them connected to work," said Jan McKeel, executive director of SCTWA. Connection to work is important, she said, because statistics show if a person has been unemployed for two years, they only have a 20 percent chance to returning to a full-time job.

"It's sort of sobering," McKeel said.

Jordan explained the Connect2Work program was created by Tennessee's Work Act of 2012.

"It's the first (occasion) in my time where the state has passed legislation to deal with workforce training. This is huge," said McKeel. The program is federally funded, however, and, because of this, has many requirements for the employers, including one that the minimum wage reached by workers in the program, after on-the-job training, must be at least $11.15 per hour.

"We're giving it a shot," said McKeel. "We're thrilled to have it."

"I'm really excited about this program," agreed Marcey Taylor, who runs Marshall County's Career Center, housed in the Columbia State building on South Ellington Parkway.

"If you're not getting the skills you need, it's definitely something to consider," Taylor added.

"It will not be the perfect tool for every candidate," McKeel said. "It's just one more tool we've got."

The incumbent worker training program still has money, McKeel told the group.

"There's up to $25,000 per year per employer," said Stan Smith. "The training can be whatever you need: public, private, in-house..."

"Grab it -- use it -- it's yours," McKeel urged employers. "Just do it by August."

Tanya Garrett reported on the summer jobs program for graduating high school seniors.

"It was disappointing last year in Marshall County," she admitted. "We had employers, and not enough applicants."

"That's a bad sign for us," agreed Lewisburg's Director of Economic Development Greg Lowe. "I don't think it's a lack of encouragement or marketing."

This year, McKeel said, they will reach outside the Jobs for Tennessee Graduates class to find teenagers who want to work in the summer.

Lyn Stacey, the school system's Career Technical Director, explained JTG is an elective class, which has restrictions on which students qualify.

"We have a difficult time getting a full roster," Stacey said, adding, "We can do a better job."