Lehigh Valley received $1.6 million from the state to entice workers to finish their education and return to the workforce after COVID 19 shut down most of the economy for more than a year.
The state Department of Labor and Industry awarded $8.2 million to four regions in the state to assist 1,000 job seekers who have been displaced from employment due to the pandemic, Gov. Tom Wolf announced in June. The grants will run for 24 months to allow workers to expand their education and connect them with high priority occupations that pay $15 per hour or higher, according to a press release.
On Thursday, Nancy Dischinat, executive director of Workforce Board Lehigh Valley, along with the presidents of Northampton Community College and Lehigh Carbon Community College, outlined the program for the state’s “Near Completer Demonstration Project,” known as “FINISH WHAT YOU START” in Lehigh County.
“It is projected that this grant will influence eligible workers to complete their degrees or training in High Priority Occupations –the high quality, well-paying jobs that lead to career pathways with job growth,” said Laurie Hackett, Workforce Board public official.
“COVID-19 has severely impacted our region’s workforce, and we are excited for the opportunity to provide resources and access to eligible individuals to complete their degree and develop the in-demand skills needed to secure a well-paying, high priority job. Individuals eligible for this Program must meet the requirements and the research we have completed indicates we have former students that meet these requirements,” said Dr. Ann Bieber, president of Lehigh Carbon Community College.
The eligible individuals to complete their degree and develop the in-demand skills needed to secure a well- paying, high priority job. Individuals eligible for this program must meet (certain) requirements, and the research we have completed indicates we have former students that meet these requirements,” she said.
“Workforce Board Lehigh Valley Near Completer/Finish What You Start Grant is not only a significant investment into our region, it is a comprehensive workforce training, education and employment opportunity for 200 dislocated workers ……who now have the ability to complete their degrees, credentials and certificates in high demand occupations and in well-paying jobs that lead to career pathways, advancement opportunities and potential for higher wages,” said Dischinat.
Those receiving grants must have been displaced by the pandemic from March 1, 2020 and making less than $15 per hour. In addition, job losses must have been in accommodation and food service, health care and social assistance, construction, administrative and waste services, manufacturing, retail trade, and transportation and warehousing.
Workers who meet the Institute of Higher Education’s established program admission requirements must be able to finish their formal training program to complete a certificate, associates, or bachelor’s degree within 1 semester or a 16-week timeframe unless a waiver is approved by the department.
Former post-secondary students who exited a post-secondary training between January 1, 2016 and the present without obtaining their certification or degree/credential, had a 2.0 GPA (or higher) upon exit, and are interested, available and capable of returning to finish their degree may also qualify.
Dr. Mark Erickson, president, Northampton Community College, speaking of the two community colleges in the Lehigh Valley, said, “We are, by design, all about providing convenient, affordable access to a college education and targeted workforce training that meets the needs of our area employers. Truth be told, if not for us, many of our students would have no other option for pursuing a college education or their career dreams.”
Erickson said he is excited about the project “because it will help more of our students and more work force members receive education, training and career preparation. These are individuals who previously applied or registered at one of our community colleges” but did not complete their programs. He added that he hopes the grant will help at least 200 people.
“The Finish What You Start Initiative will help strengthen our economy and workforce by providing the skills and training needed to secure well paying, family-sustaining jobs in high-priority occupations,” said Dr.Bieber. “It is more important than ever for us to provide our community members the opportunity to finish their degree or credential and enter the workforce with the skills needed to improve their lives and strengthen our economy.”
According to Gov. Wolf’s press release, the other three outfits selected to receive grants include: The Philadelphia Workforce Development Board (Montgomery and Philadelphia counties) – $2.5 million; the South Central Workforce Development Board (Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry and York counties) – $1.6 million; and the Three Rivers Workforce Development Board (Allegheny County, City of Pittsburgh) – $2.5 million.
The Near Completer Demonstration Projects are funded 100 percent by the federal government’s Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.