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Federal Grant Funds Job Retraining at Community Colleges

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A federally funded program to provide low-cost job retraining at all of the state’s 14 community colleges is up and running, after a year of prep work.

Workers who have lost jobs due to companies moving overseas will be eligible for retraining in three industries expected to grow in the commonwealth: advanced manufacturing, energy, and health care information technology.

Some classes have already begun at Butler County Community College. President Nick Neupauer said the best job placement rate has been among people training to work in the oil and gas industry as roustabouts.

Not familiar?

“Pardon the lay definition, but [they’re] for the dirty work that’s done at the drilling sites,” said Neupauer. “These are the guys who are manual laborers.”

The retraining program, JobTrakPA, is funded through a $20 million federal grant. The Pennsylvania Commission of Community Colleges says there are about 15,000 Pennsylvanians eligible to be retrained through the program. One estimate shows the initiative could train just 3,800 people over the federal grant’s lifetime.

The money runs out in about two years.

Stephen Curtis, president of the Community College of Philadelphia, said one strategy to keep the initiative afloat would be to partner with employers -- something he says many community colleges do already.

Colleges must also meet certain benchmarks to hang onto the grant, Curtis explained, such as the number of participants, how many people complete training, and how many people are matched with after training.

Much of the training is free to students, added Curtis. “Depending on the particular training, there’s financial aid available, too,” he said. “My general comment is the cost to the student is not, in most cases, an issue.”