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Worker retraining programs run dry at community colleges

Ralph Radford
AP Photo
David Puki, left, helps inspect a drum brake with Hal Glade, at South Seattle Community College. Puki, a laid-off Boeing worker, is studying to be an auto mechanic.

Unemployed workers are facing yet another obstacle as they try to get back on their feet. A lot of community colleges have run out of money to retrain them for in-demand jobs. 

It’s hard enough for most people to find work right now, let alone those whose fields have been pummeled by the recession. Changes in the job market have driven more workers than ever to take advantage of grants for retraining. So many, that even though the state spent $17.6 million to train an extra 3,784 people this year, it hasn’t been enough.

John Huber, director of workforce education services at Highline Community College, says even though his office has run out retraining funding, a lot of unemployed workers are still pouring in with the hopes of going to school.

“They’re coming in to start spring quarter and there’s just no quick funding source available if they can’t pay on their own," he says. "There’s just no way for them to start.”

He estimates nearly 100 students will be out of luck this spring at Highline alone. Community colleges from Tacoma to Skagit Valley are facing similar situations:

  • North Seattle Community College has enough worker retraining funding for 75 students this spring, but by the first intake workshop for this quarter it had received more than 100 eligible applications.
  • Cascadia Community College had enough funding for 30 worker retraining students this year and has already served 72.
  • Bates Technical College has been telling prospective students who need to use worker retraining funds to call back in May or June to make an appointment for fall quarter or beyond.

Workers who can wait around for a few months until the next quarter starts will only get the funding if lawmakers don’t cut the program in the next budget. Worker retraining competes for the same general fund dollars as social services and education, and other state programs.

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