Job training bills focus on nursing loans, employee accounts

Gov. Bill Ritter and Colorado Senate President Brandon Shaffer unveiled three job-training bills that will be introduced during the 2010 legislative session.

The legislation includes a job retraining program, incentives for creating health care jobs in rural areas and a nursing school-loan forgiveness program.

“It all begins with a good job,” Shaffer said. “At the capitol, we’re fighting for hard-working Coloradans. … we are fighting to make sure Colorado workers are prepared for the jobs of the 21st century.”

The job retraining bill authorizes the state’s 529 plan, which allows parents to save money, tax free, for children’s college education, to create and administer similar accounts for employees. The accounts – paid for by matching money from businesses – would be portable and owned by each employee. The accounts are designed to finance education and training, in a way similar to the 529 college savings plans. Employers could offer the plans to their employees, establish the program structure and set eligibility requirements.

Contributions by the employee would be eligible for unlimited Colorado tax deductions, and earnings in the account will be tax free for both state and federal tax purposes.

The second bill expands the scope of the state’s loan repayment program within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The intent is to consolidate existing public and private loan repayment programs for doctors and nurses serving in rural areas of Colorado. The restructuring will increase the available money in the program from $120,000 to more than $2 million.

Nurses will also benefit from proposed legislation aimed at forgiving loans for nurses who go back to school in order to become eligible for teaching positions. The legislation changes the teaching requirement from full-time to part-time, and allows the position to begin within two years of obtaining the advanced degree. The hope is that loosening the requirements for loan forgiveness will increase the number of new nurses that can be trained each year.

None of the three bills require additional taxes, and Rep. Joe Rice (D-Littleton) said the “leaner and more efficient government” was created “so we can do exactly this: focus on jobs and on the real issues that matter to people.”

Finally, the governor announced a program called CareerReady Colorado that certifies job skills. More than 20 states have a CaeerReady certification program, and 48 have a similar credentialing system.

CareerReady started during 2009, with pilot projects in Arapahoe, Denver, Jefferson County and the Pikes Peak region. Employees must pass a series of three tests, given in a proctored setting by ACT, the company recognized for its college admission tests. Skills are measured in applied math, reading for information and locating information. The certificate is signed by the governor, and offered to workers in gold, silver and bronze skill levels.

The program will now move statewide.

“We talk alot about shovel-ready projects,” said Don Mares, executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. “But employers know a project is truly shovel-ready only when there’s a career-ready workfoce that’s fully prapred to get the job done.”