Ohio to roll out training vouchers

Newark Advocate - December 31, 2012

Jessie Balmert

Vouchers to train current employees might go quickly as businesses seek to snap up the long-awaited and elusive earmark.

Applications for the Ohio Incumbent Workforce Training Voucher Program, which comprises $20 million for fiscal year 2012 and $30 million for fiscal year 2013, will be available starting Monday, according to the Ohio Development Services Agency.

Business owners have waited for the payout from casino dollars since the voucher program was announced in June 2011 along with the rest of the budget, said Bridget McDaniel, executive director of the Richland County Development Group.

Even though news and excitement surrounding the program have been spreading for months, Ohio Development Services Agency spokeswoman Stephanie Gostomski said there was no delay in rolling out the program because no official launch date was set.

Funds for training current employees are much less available than funds for prospective employees, McDaniel said. The money should help Ohioans retain manufacturing jobs, which have become highly specialized, she added.

“It’s not your grandfather’s factory anymore,” McDaniel said. “There’s a constant learning curve to stay ahead of.”

Funds will go quickly because there is little reimbursement available for companies seeking to train current employees; most dollars are earmarked for getting people into the industry, McDaniel said. There is no deadline for applications, which will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“This is going to be a very popular program. Speculation is that this money is going to go very fast,” said Mike Jacoby, executive director of the Zanesville-Muskingum County Port Authority.

The voucher reimburses employers up to $500,000 for training of employees who work at least 25 hours per week and earn at least 150 percent of minimum wage. The targeted industries are advanced manufacturing, aerospace and aviation, automobile, biohealth, corporate headquarters, energy, financial services, food processing, information technology and services and polymers and chemicals — areas of high-growth in Ohio.

Employees are eligible for up to $4,000 for an industry-recognized certificate, improved computer skills or training from the trade association. Funds cannot go toward a General Educational Development Test (GED), conference fees or management and leadership classes.

The Ohio Development Services Agency will reimburse up to 50 percent of the training costs after employees complete training.

The state-level funding is important to offset losses to the federal Workforce Investment Act, which has faced cuts and could see more depending on talks in Washington, said Hannah Halbert, policy liaison and workforce researcher with Policy Matters Ohio, a liberal-leaning think tank.

Companies that have put off training on new methods will welcome the funds that help them remain competitive, Jacoby said.

“It comes down to competitiveness. I think the companies that are doing well in Ohio are competing because they have fairly sophisticated procedures,” Jacoby said.

Policy Matters Ohio personnel have advocated for accountability for the training offered to be sure funds are well-spent, Halbert said.

Halbert also suggested funding regional, industry-specific groups instead of individual companies. These groups of large and small businesses, local colleges and development directors would better serve interests of area instead of one company, she added.

“There’s an effort to be employer driven; that’s a good thing and a smart thing,” Halbert said. “We’re just trying to get the right strategy.”

Ohio to roll out training vouchers

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