No need to cut training

State, federal money  available for businesses

When times get tough, creative business owners seek solutions to bolster their bottom lines — but cutting training budgets shouldn’t be one of them.

Although companies in El Paso and Teller counties received $506,000 in grants during fiscal year 2009, $200,000 in state grant money went unclaimed last year.

“Right now dollars are hard to come by,” said Jerry Fritz, dean of Pikes Peak Community College’s Economic and Workforce Development Division. “But there is money out there — and people are not aware of it.”

One source of funding is the Colorado Existing Industry Training Program, which targets employers who need to retrain workers. This year, the state has $725, 000 available for the program. Enrollment begins during August.

“It gives current employees a competitive advantage,” Fritz said “And these new skill sets increase revenue. Employers can bring in more money to Colorado if their employees are at a higher skill set.”

The grants are administered through the community college system.

Locally, PPCC works with the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology, Pueblo Community College and the Pikes Peak Workforce Center to provide training.

The association helps companies “connect the dots, identify leads and clients and do grant writing,” said Joe Pentlicki, account and program manager for CAMT. “We help companies train employees and learn how to eliminate waste and non-value added processes.”

And the association also helps companies find other Colorado manufacturers.

“We focus on state economic growth,” Pentlicki said. “Why go to Missouri for a product — when Bob right down the street manufactures the same thing?”

Another source of money is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provides training dollars for four “in-demand” business sectors: energy efficiency/renewal energy, infrastructure, education and information technology.

The Pikes Peak Workforce Center used ARRA money to launch a pilot program of on-the-job training for adults and dislocated workers, said Phil Pierce, director of adult programs.

“The whole idea is to try and get people back to work as quickly as possible,” he said.

Yet another source of money is Colorado First Grants, which are targeted at companies in the business and services sectors. The grants can be used to provide fast-track training for employees hired since Jan. 1. Enrollment begins Aug. 3, and $2 million is available.

Easy process

Perhaps the best news about Colorado training grant programs is that the application is only six pages — and help is available.

Since it’s administered locally through PPCC, that’s the logical place for business owners to start.

Melissa Westmoland, operations specialist at PPCC’s Economic and Workforce Development Division, can guide business owners through the application process, helping them determine eligibility, and then customizing a training program for a company’s grant proposal.

For instance, cluster grants have higher rates of approval, Westmoland said. Small companies with only one or two employees can co-apply with three to 15 other companies, combining grants and training.

The Colorado First Grant has two components. The Incentive Program is designed for companies that are undertaking a major expansion or are relocating to the state. Thus, funding is based on the number and quality of jobs created.

The money is available to companies that are adding a “significant number of new full-time jobs to their work force,” and requires a proposed training plan through a participating community college.

The grant also requires a 40 percent employer match, some of which is in-kind, meaning the company pays wages or stipends to trainees.

Colorado Existing Industry grants are for companies that must implement new technology to remain competitive and keep jobs in-state, and also requires a proposed training plan.

General guidelines

Certain jobs are not eligible, such as part-time, retail, tourism and seasonal jobs. The training money must be used for full-time, primary (defined as dollar-importing) jobs that have significant career opportunities and require substantial instruction, Westmoland said.

Jobs must include health benefits and pay more than minimum wage. Priority is given to companies in urban areas along the Front Range that pay at least $10.46 per hour, and to companies in rural areas that pay a minimum of $8.20 per hour.

The Office of Economic Development also requires grant recipients to use the resources and facilities of a community college or area vocational school for training if they can meet a company’s needs.