Tuesday, January 17, 2006

January 15, 2006

Work program helps further education

By Nathan Halverson

FAIRFIELD - Shantel Cannon's career dream is to be a certified nursing assistant. But to meld aspirations into reality, Cannon has significant hurdles to overcome - the most pressing being child care.

"I have to find someone to pick my child up from school," said Cannon, who is enrolled in the CNA certificate program at the Fairfield-Suisun Adult School. Her 5-year-old son gets out of kindergarten at 11:50 a.m., but her class doesn't end until 12:30 p.m. Since starting the program a few weeks ago, she has relied on a friend to pick up her son, but she can't rely on that forever.

"The only thing that will prevent me from graduating is child care," said Cannon, who lives on a low-income budget. "It's just hard to find someone to pick him up every day."

But now she might have found her solution. Cannon applied to a new program that provides assistance to students who qualify for financial support.

The program, Career Advantage, is a new multimillion dollar campaign by the Workforce Investment Board of Solano County. The program is designed to assist in training people to make them qualified for higher-paying jobs while simultaneously providing businesses with qualified employees.

The program caters to students enrolled in training courses for jobs in high demand such as nursing. Businesses with labor shortages such as hospitals helped choose which training programs would qualify for assistance from the Solano-based employment organization.

As the unemployment rate in Solano County continues to decline - it's at 5.1 percent - many employers are finding it increasingly difficult to find qualified workers.

The program, launched this month, covers 20 occupations, including welding, biotechnology production, heating and air conditioning repair, appliance repair and a handful of health-care jobs. Many employers in these fields are struggling to fill open positions.

"We looked at what appeared to have the strongest labor market demand," said Robert Bloom, president of the Solano Workforce Investment Board. "But we really want students not to drop out, and I dare say that is the bigger problem."

To help students focus on their studies and stay enrolled, Career Advantage offers what Bloom calls "wrap-around services."

The program's wrap-around services provide more than just financial benefits - such as help with tuition costs, books, uniforms and child care. It also offers career coaching, job search services and on-going educational opportunities once employed.

The Career Advantage program is a bold new step for his organization, Bloom said. The organization will spend about two-thirds of its $4.9 million annual budget on the new program.

"It's a reinvention of what we do," he said. "Prior to this reinvention the Solano WIB was known for paying for tuition costs and assisting clients with job placement, now the services are more comprehensive."

The program offers classes such as "Attitude & Motivation: Taking Control of your Attitude, Goal Setting and Self-management," and "Networking for Life: How and Why to Network for Life."

Bloom and other Workforce Investment Board employees worked with businesses to determine what kind of skills and knowledge employees need to have beyond their occupational skills.

The Career Advantage program has been tested in limited release in three pilot programs, the first of which began about four years ago with the Caregiver Training Initiative.

This first initiative helped train and license 255 certified nurse aides and other health professionals.

The pilot programs taught the organization how to bring its resources together for employers, educators and the students.

Starting this year, the program is being rolled out for all 20 career training programs, which are offered at a variety of schools -Êincluding Solano Community College, the Fairfield-Suisun, Vallejo, and Vacaville Adult Schools and at area high schools.

Vickie Good, principal of Fairfield-Suisun Adult School, said students in her school are being helped by the program.

"These are very rigorous courses," Good said. "The program makes it so our students aren't stretched so thinly. They will be able to be enrolled and feel their children are safe and taken care of."

The Solano Workforce Investment Board will continue to add programs. It will conduct annual assessments of labor shortages and work to provide assistance for students planning on entering the labor force for a highly demanded occupation.

Reach Nathan Halverson at 425-4747 ext. 267 or nhalverson@dailyrepublic.net.

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