Friday, August 6, 2010

Laid-off workers explore options in Omak

DSC_5586Jim Skinner of WorkSource Okanogan County staffs a table at the July Opportunity Fair.

When both lumber mills shut down last year, 450 people were thrown out of work in Omak, Wash.
     “There are a lot of families totally devastated by these layoffs,” Debi Condon said during the July 22 Opportunity Fair at the Omak Community Center. “Many are still hoping the mills will reopen. They’re not going to, not with the same number of people as before.”
     Condon is human resources coordinator for the Colville Tribal Enterprises Corp., which runs the mills. She organized the fair to connect laid-off workers with funding and training options. “I keep telling everybody, this is your chance of a lifetime,” she said. “Get out there.”
     By “chance of a lifetime,” she means the federal Trade Act Program, which will pay up to $22,000 for college or retraining, along with relocation expenses and a tax credit for health insurance.
     “Being out in the woods just isn’t what it used to be,” she said. “How else can you get free college, and money while you’re going to college?" More...
     Among the presenters were representatives from the Colville Confederated Tribes, Washington State University’s online degree program, a truck-driving school, and WorkSource Okanogan County, which is administering the federal Trade Act Program.
     “We’re here to help people learn more about the benefits of the program,” said Jim Skinner, Trade Act counselor for WorkSource. “We’ve had lots of people come by with great questions. We’ve been really busy.”
     The laid-off workers spent an average of 14 years at the mills, Condon said. Many worked there all their adult lives.
     “You get a lot of the older guys and they’re really lost right now,” said Tammy Cohen, a financial aid specialist for the tribes. “I think for the first time in their lives they’re worried about where they’re going to go.”
     Many are considering earning a university degree, said WSU Online program representative Rich Miller.
     “This has been the highest concentration of qualified students that I’ve ever seen at this kind of event,” he said. “Usually one out of three people I talk with might be serious students. So far, everyone that has come to my table has been a serious student.”
     Skinner said WorkSouce has been working with the tribes to get the word out about the Trade Act, which he calls the “Cadillac of training programs.” So far, WorkSouce has helped about 125 people, he said.
     “What’s nice is when someone comes in and they’re a little unsure about their future and we can help them,” Skinner said. “And when they get a job, they’re all excited, and we’re excited too – it’s like we win too.”
– By Richard H. Miller/WSU Online

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