Scholarships available to get people trained for available jobs

Audrey Caro Gomez

The Community Services Consortium is accepting applications for vocational scholarships and has expanded some educational and employment aspects of its services.

Training for healthcare and manufacturing jobs is the emphasis of the vocational scholarships, said Martha Lyon, executive director of the CSC, during a presentation to the Linn County Board of Commissioners on Aug. 2.

“Those aren’t the only jobs for which we can provide scholarships, but those are the priority areas and they’ve been determined by the board, in conjunction with the employment department looking at where the jobs are in Linn County,” Lyon said.

The point is to try to get people trained for areas in which jobs are available, she added.

The scholarship is funded under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

The CSC also offers job training for people 17 to 24 years old, through its YouthBuild program.

“Incite (a nonprofit public charity dedicated to finding innovative workforce solutions) also asked us to expand our youth services in Polk County, which we’re trying to do,” Lyon said.

CSC previously said they wanted to take contracts out of the Linn, Benton, Lincoln counties, which they cover in hopes to provide “some economies of scale for our youth program.”

“I have a bit of concern when someone’s asking you to apply to provide a service and nobody else is making application to provide that service, there’s usually a reason why,” Commissioner Roger Nyquist said. “Are you doing this at the financial detriment of the CSC?”

Lyon assured him that was not the case, but the CSC is making some adjustments financially.

“I will tell you that in order to take all of our work force contracts this year and keep workforce alive in our three-county area, we will be using up to $100,000 of our fundraising funds,” Lyon said. “We will be supplementing those funds in order to keep those services.”

Lyon added that they did a cost benefit analysis

“We talked to the board about it and we’re willing to do that for one year,” Lyon said. “Polk County won’t make that much of a difference. We don’t anticipate that we’ll need to subsidize there much at all, but you’re absolutely right. There were other people that were asked to look at the services here and they were not um, they were not interested for a number of different reasons.”

She said primarily the concerns had to do with concerns about Incite’s requirements.

“We have a year or two of services under them, so we’re a little more comfortable with what they’re asking,” Lyon said.

Lyon said CSC is working to coordinate closer partnerships with other groups to improve services to clients.

“One of the things that we’re doing is trying to align our training more to (Department of Human Services),” Lyon said. “I’ve been working on that a lot and we’re hoping that what that will mean for Linn County residents is that when they come to use DHS or CSC services, it’ll be faster, easier, more well coordinated and that should save money, time and aggravation and should improve outcomes for all those folks who need to get their feet back on the ground.”

There is a large overlap of clients between DHS and CSC, she said.

Additionally, the CSC is starting a new program with the Family Tree Relief Nursery.

“Family Tree Relief Nursery works with folks who may or may not be on TANF (a state program that provides cash assistance to low-income families with children while they strive to become self-sufficient), but likely they are on TANF,” Lyon said.

The goal is to help people who are getting respite care and also help them get training and hands on help with how to get a job.

“Many of the folks come to Relief Nursery because they are struggling with financial issues,” Lyon said. “The best way to deal with that is to get a better job.”

Nyquist said on a person to person basis, it is extremely expensive, in his opinion, then asked Lyon if she modeled the cost on a per person basis.

“Sure we do,” Lyon said. “The per person basis, a year of unemployment or a year on TANF is multiples higher than investing ($5,000 or $8,000), or in a YouthBuild model, maybe $15,000 a year to get these people up and at ’em.”

There is a definite return on investment, Lyon said.

“It’s not an investment that the county has to make, because we’re pulling in state and federal dollars,” Lyon said. “I think too, it strengthens the community.”

The most frustrating thing is the restrictions, Nyquist said.

“I don’t think Selmet, for example, needs people that have some skill level when they show up at their door,” Nyquist said. “They’re working with the college and they’re getting some of those technical skills in an educational setting.”

He thinks motivating people to wake up and go make money is a bit of different effort, he said, quoting the Twenty One Pilot’s song “Stressed Out.”

“I mean, on the fringes, you’re only dealing with one to two, to maybe three percent of the population,” Nyquist said. “So that’s a bit of an issue. But, you’ve already hit on the other, the back end of it is that the TANF and the whatever other benefits they’re eligible for, they, I’m told, I was told by the last governor, that to not wake up and go make money, that they make $12.90 an hour.”

Commissioner John Lindsey said he heard $16.

“No, what?,” Lyon asked.

“I don’t know what the numbers are,” Nyquist said.

“I should have been careful to raise the issue,” Nyquist said after Lindsey stated another amount.

Neither Lyon, nor the commissioners, said the TANF hourly rates mentioned by Nyquist and Lindsey were correct.

“So, in other words a $5,000 touch to get them out of bed and working, is pretty minimal compared to the hourly investment that you’re talking about, wouldn’t you say?”

Nyquist asked if they could intervene earlier, when students are identified as being headed towards being dropouts.

Lyon said that is kind of the way YouthBuild works.

Nyquist mentioned the federal restrictions and Incite’s interpretations.

“What you’re getting on the back end is a pretty futile endeavor and I commend the people who engage in that endeavor,” Nyquist said.

He said the finances concern him and asked at what point they ask if there is a better strategy.

“What I’d like to see us stick with one thing for a while and make it work,” said Commissioner Will Tucker, who attended the meeting via phone conference due to surgery.