Worker training money not being fully utilized

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Every year, Pikes Peak Community College returns hundreds of thousands of dollars to the state – money that local companies could be using to train employees.
“It’s free money,” said Jaki Taggert, director of work force training and business management faculty at the school. “The state has about $2.7 million to give to employers every year, and the junior colleges serve as a liaison with businesses and the state to give the grants to local companies.”
Pikes Peak has been more successful at giving out grants than any other college in the system, Taggert said. Each year, about $500,000 is provided to local companies for training.
“It can be any kind of hands-on training,” she said. “It does have to be hands-on. We don’t do soft skills, like management training or diversity training. All the business has to do is fill out the application, and we take it from there.”
One of the companies planning to take advantage of the Colorado First training grants – grants available to new or expanding businesses – is Bal Seal Engineering, which announced its move to Colorado Springs last week.
“We certainly plan to apply for those grants,” said Vice Chairman Jacques Naviaux. “They weren’t our main reason for moving to Colorado – the work force was really our primary concern – but it was one of the secondary reasons.”
The company could train as many as 90 people in the first year, Naviaux said. Bal Seal manufactures medical implants.
“We anticipate using the grants for people in our machining operation,” he said. “It’s hard to tell how many people we’ll have to train – or to what extent. It’s going to depend on the skill level of the people we hire. But, certainly, for people who will be doing our assembly work, we definitely plan to use the grant to get them trained and ready to work.”
The grant is important because production of implants requires specific machine work, he said. Pikes Peak Community College will be creating the training program, specific to Bal Seal’s needs.
Larry Westman, quality manager at Springs Fabrication, said companies should research the process thoroughly before committing to the grant program.
“The state provides money, but the company also has a financial commitment,” he said, noting that Springs Fabrication received $100,000 this year to train skilled workers and management staff. “There’s also a time commitment. You have to make sure you can balance all that out.”
Employers are required to contribute a minimum of 40 percent to the total costs of grant-funded training. For grants greater than $30,000, 10 percent of the company’s contribution must be cash funds.
While Bal Seal and Springs Fabrication are using the community college, it is not necessary in order to receive the grants, Taggert said.
“We’d love for them to use Pikes Peak,” she said. “But they can use any company out there. If they have internal trainers, then they can use those.”
Springs Fabrication, a steel manufacturer, used three sources for training: Pike’s Peak, internal training and an external company. While companies are required to complete the training during the same year they receive the grant, Springs Fabrication received an extension from the state.
Two types of training grants are available in El Paso County – existing work force grants and Colorado First grants. The Colorado First grants are available to companies that are relocating to Colorado or are hiring new people. The existing work force grants are available to companies that are introducing new technology.
“Basically, everyone is covered,” Taggert said. “Companies that have been here are always trying new technology to stay competitive. And that’s what these grants are all about.”
Interested companies can receive up to $800 for each employee receiving training. Taggert said she works with companies to fill out the applications before they are sent to Denver.
“There are some rules,” she said. “Companies must pay an average wage of $8.50 an hour; in rural areas, that can be dropped to $7. They have to offer health insurance – they don’t have to pay a portion, but they do have to offer it.”
In addition, an on-site visit from state and local officials is required, as is the company’s financial statement, Taggert said. The process – from beginning to end – can take about a month.
“It takes two weeks to fill out the application,” she said. “Then, it can take another two weeks for approval from the state. Once the training is complete, companies receive their reimbursement check within a month. Employees have to sign affidavits saying they received the grants.”
Taggert said the state provides money for training because it makes good economic sense.
“It’s good business. It helps keep the number of employed people on the rise,” she said. “It’s good for the economy. It helps attract new businesses.”
However, Taggert said she still sends money back to the state every year. She’d like to use all the money that is available for training.
“The fear is that if we keep sending money back, then we won’t have the money at all some day,” she said.
amy.gillentine@csbj.com