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Job boards running short of funds to retrain jobless Floridians

Resources are drying up quickly for jobless Floridians who want federal money to be retrained as an LPN, dental hygienist or other job viewed as in-demand.

WorkNet Pinellas expects to run out of government money for job training programs by the end of this month, even though its annual training budget was doubled to $9 million thanks to federal stimulus dollars.

And the agency is not alone among the 24 state-sponsored workforce boards scattered across Florida.

Several other boards have already run out of money or expect to long before their fiscal year ends June 30. In Hillsborough County, the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance projects training funds will last through February, but executives are making no promises after that.

It's a simple case of supply and demand, with demand fueled by more than 1 million Floridians out of work as the state's unemployment rate has rocketed to a 34-year high of 11.5 percent.

Most of the training money, state workforce officials say, has been used to help displaced workers pay tuition for courses in the medical field, one of the few sectors adding jobs in the past two years.

At WorkNet Pinellas, more than 600 people are in the pipeline seeking training money, agency president and CEO Ed Peachey said. With a maximum grant of $5,000 per person, that totals about $3 million worth of demand; only about $700,000 of the $9 million budget is left, however.

"So if all 600 were eligible, obviously we'd have to turn some of them away," Peachey said.

Career Central, which caters to Hernando and Pasco County residents, has been much slower to tap into the training dollars. With the stimulus package, its budget to train dislocated workers and sponsor youth programs was doubled to $4 million this fiscal year. It has spent about $2.8 million.

"We still have dollars readily available," said Ken Russ, vice president of business services for the Pasco-Hernando Jobs and Education Partnership Regional Board. "I don't see a problem right now."

Other workforce boards clustered near major metros aren't as flush. Orlando's workforce board, Workforce Central Florida, has already exhausted its $8 million in training money, according to the Orlando Sentinel. And South Florida Workforce, which serves Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, anticipates running out of training money by mid February, the Miami Herald reported.

Workforce Florida, the umbrella group for the workforce boards, does not track individual training accounts and does not know how many boards are running out of money, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

At the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance, the annual training budget more than doubled from $3.6 million to $7.8 million because of the stimulus program. But funds are depleting quickly, with more than 1,000 people signing up for training since July, according to Julie Sanon, senior vice president at the alliance.

By far, health care rules. Applicants are seeking courses in geriatric and elderly care, cardiovascular health and electronic medical records, Sanon said. They're being trained as X-ray technicians and dental hygienists. Among non-health care training that's being funded: computer network administration, tech support and firefighting.

Both Sanon and Peachey at WorkNet Pinellas said they are seeking other federal grants and examining whether money can be shifted from other programs. But there's no guarantee of any fresh training funds before summer.

Moreover, even being approved for funding is no guarantee the person will be trained quickly, said Russ of Career Central.

"It depends on if the schools have enough slots," he said. "Sometimes there's a waiting list at some of these institutions."

Jeff Harrington can be reached at jharrington@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8242.

Loss of 85,000 jobs tempers hopes for economic recovery

As America absorbed word that another 85,000 jobs disappeared from the economy in December, hopes for a vigorous recovery were dashed by the prospect that paychecks could remain scarce through the year and into 2011. "We're still losing jobs," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. The national unemployment rate for the month was unchanged from November at 10 percent, the government said.

Job boards running short of funds to retrain jobless Floridians 01/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 8, 2010 11:32pm]
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