By Stephanie Malench
The Madison County government has many departments that people count on to meet their needs every day, such as the Health Department, Sheriff’s Department and the Highway Department. Another department that has been overlooked even during the massive layoffs and furlows resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic is the Employment and Training Department.
The Employment and Training Department is one of a dozen partner agencies that support Southwestern Illinois workNet Centers serving Madison, Bond, Jersey, and Calhoun Counties.
Like the other departments, money is allocated to provide services to those in need and if people do not take advantage of the services offered, the program’s budget is cut the following year.
Funding is provided through the Federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. The local workforce area which also includes St. Clair County and the counties surrounding it have been budgeted $2.7 million from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021.
Housed in the old Wood River Township Hospital at 101 East Edwardsville Rd in Wood River since 2015, the center offers universal services to anyone who comes in, calls (618)296-4301, or visits the Employment and Training Department tab on the www.co.madison.il.us website. These services include resource computers for job searches, resume software for development and review, a job board that can accommodate between 50 and 100 postings, employer hiring events (mostly virtual now), and fax, telephone, and copier availability for job searches only. Job seekers receive digital copies of their resumes, up to 20 hard copies each day, and resumes are archived for seven years.
Jobs shared posted at the workNet center are shared on a distribution list with over 200 organizations that help job seekers.
Even with the large number of people out of work for the past year, the center has had an average of less than 20 job seekers drop in for services and less than five phone calls each day. Director of Employment and Training Anthony Fuhrmann said the lack of people using the program’s services is due to several factors. Fuhrmann said many employees who are laid off are waiting to see if they will be called back before making a career move. Others are weary of public places or parents are too busy helping their children with remote learning.
Career Navigator Kim Burns meets with people individually either in person or online to help them create a resume or search for a job.
According to One Stop Office Coordinator Tony Stephens, one of the biggest under-utilized benefits at the Madison County office is the workforce training program. Madison County residents 18 and older who are low income or receiving state benefits, underemployed, on unemployment, recently exhausted their unemployment benefits, are a displaced homemaker, or a transitioning military spouse are eligible to receive up to two years of paid tuition up to $20,000 and up to an additional $10,000 in books, tools, uniforms, testing and licensing through Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC), Lewis and Clark Community College (LCCC), Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE), or Kaskaskia College.
Applicants must complete at least one of the online job assessments and the occupation training sought must also be on the State Demand List and have growth potential.
Programs are also available for youth between 16 and 18 who are still in school to catch up on credits, e-learning for high school drop outs between 17 and 24, and GED assistance. A paid work experience for youth paying $12/hour is also available.
The Madison County Board recently approved using Employment and Training Department funds to provide grants until June 30, 2022 for for up to 75 customers to enroll in an online short-term training program at SIUE in biosciences where the students earn a series of credentials towards an online badge. The series takes from 1-12 weeks depending on the training selected and is followed up with on the job training in the field.
In addition to working with job seekers, the Madison County Employment and Training Department has an employers services program which helps employers create job postings, job descriptions, and funding for training. The program can reimburse companies 50% of a new employee’s salary as well as fund new or existing workforce training for promotion or recruitment assistance.
One of the success stories of the program is Wayne R. Wayne was laid off after 27 years as a welder from American Steel in Granite City in March of last year when the jobs were shipped to Mexico.
Wayne was referred to the program by a friend that used the job search and training services. Wayne is in his first semester at SWIC studying HVAC with hopes of starting his own heating and cooling repair business at which time he said his wife would like to enroll in the program, and said “there is a light at the end of the tunnel”.