September 10, 2006
"A chance to start something new"
Special to The Seattle Times
SCOTT COHEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES
When her 14-year career with Ford folded during downsizing late last year, Susan Hamilton figured she had three options:
"I could be angry at Ford; throw myself a pity party; or take this as an opportunity that most people don't get a chance to start something new," Hamilton says.
The Lynnwood woman chose Plan C.
Fueled by optimism and an Internet search engine, Hamilton, a 40-year-old former operations analyst, found Worker Retraining a Washington state program that has helped nearly 90,000 displaced and unemployed adults begin researching and training for new careers. The program provides advice and early funding for classes at Washington's 34 community and technical colleges, and a handful of private career schools and colleges.
As college students statewide go back to school this month, a couple thousand of them will be in classes through this state-funded Worker Retraining program. Others will take their first hopeful step into a free Worker Retraining orientation session offered weekly at community and technical colleges across the state.
"Our students often come in dazed and confused," says Curtis Takahashi, worker retraining coordinator at Lake Washington Technical College in Kirkland. "A majority have gone through a layoff in their career and that's a huge disruption in their life."
Many, he says, have been so focused on skills needed for their last job, they're caught off-guard when they learn what new skills are needed to be competitive and pay bills.
That's why Worker Retraining advisers are skilled at both hand-holding and helping participants scale the mountain of paperwork they typically face.
State Board of Community and Technical Colleges: www.sbctc.ctc.edu/ Workforce/workretrain.asp
Bellevue Community College: 425-564-4054 or www.bcc.ctc.edu/wrp
Cascadia Community College/Bothell: 425-352-8132 or www.cascadia.ctc.edu/wrp
Highline Community College: 206-878-3710, ext. 3802 or http://flightline.highline.edu/retraining
Lake Washington Technical College: 425-739-8206 or www.lwtc.ctc.edu/workerretraining
North Seattle Community College: 206-527-3787
Renton Technical College: 425-235-5840 or www.rtc.edu/Programs/WorkerRetraining
Seattle Central Community College: 206-587-6310
Shoreline Community College: 206-546-5882 or www.shoreline.edu
South Seattle Community College: 206-764-5835
"It's hard for people to go back to school," Takahashi says. "That's why most schools offer these orientations."
Often, he says, it's even harder for displaced workers to make the first move at times when unemployment is low, and they feel like they should be able to find a job.
Consequently, Worker Retraining enrollment rises and falls, says Carolyn Cummins, policy associate for economic development at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
During periods when employment is often considered robust, sessions at LWTC, for example, have five to 10 people, Takahashi says. Just a few years ago, as many as 40 adults packed these sessions.
"The bigger picture is that this program supports economic development around the state," Cummins says. "We have businesses that are constantly looking for skilled workers and Worker Retraining can help."
But at its root, "this has always been for people who have been laid off through no fault of their own," says Cummins. "Even when all the news about the labor market is good news, it's important for people to know that these resources don't go away."
"In reality, we're still seeing a lot of large layoffs in the area," Takahashi says. "There are still a lot of people who are laid off through company mergers and downsizing."
Washington Mutual, he points out, laid off 100 workers this spring at its Canyon Park call center in Bothell. Another 850 call-center employees in Bothell face layoffs this fall.
Hamilton, who now has her eye on a nursing career, knows what these displaced workers are going through.
Takahashi calls her a real go-getter, but Hamilton describes her own ordeal of unemployment, returning to school and searching for financial aid as a period riddled with fingernail-biting days and sleepless nights.
Following her layoff, Hamilton put her nerves into action and wasted no time in researching several schools for Worker Retraining. Within weeks, she was enrolled and eligible for what Takahashi calls "important startup funds."
"This program is going to get you started in retraining," he says. "When you're out of a job, it can be downright impossible to put aside the money for tuition for one or two quarters. We're going to help you set reasonable expectations, try to be helpful in training-related expenses, and help you navigate all the financial obstacles including researching loans, grants and scholarships, maybe even federal retraining aid."
Advice on these advanced applications and paperwork is invaluable, Hamilton says.
"Without an adviser, I probably would have submitted the paperwork but I'm not sure I would have done it correctly. There are forms where no way could I have answered the questions without help from Curtis. I didn't know anything about government Web site database codes needed for these applications."
Now finished with the first part of her Worker Retraining program, Hamilton anxiously awaits news about extended financial assistance.
"I just keep telling myself: 'You gotta have faith in the system that you've been paying into. That's what it's there for,' " she says.
Then: 1993 Started by the Washington Legislature following large-scale changes to the state's employment landscape, when thousands of workers from logging, fisheries and other industries were displaced by a changing economy.
Now: Has helped nearly 90,000 dislocated and unemployed adults begin researching and training for new careers with advice and early funding for classes at Washington's 34 community and technical colleges, and a handful of private career schools and colleges. Many other states have no such program.
Who's eligible: Generally speaking, Worker Retraining covers adults who: are not working; are eligible for Washington state unemployment benefits; have recently exhausted an unemployment claim; are considered a displaced homemaker; or have closed a business due to economic downturn.
What it provides: Financial help to displaced workers who can't afford tuition and related back-to-school costs, including transportation and child care, to earn certificates or two-year degrees but not finish a bachelor's degree. Also helps displaced workers continue training when unemployment benefits end.
What it isn't: Part of the federally funded Dislocated Worker programs. For details about these programs, contact a local WorkSource Center.
CAT or TB: Commissioner Approved Training (CAT) is a request to the Employment Security Department that lets a student collect unemployment benefits while attending school full-time. Training Benefits (TB) lets eligible students enrolled in an approved training program to collect additional weeks of unemployment benefits once they've received all of their regular benefits.
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