Want a higher-paying job but don’t have the skills? A new program makes it easier

A-1 Builders employees Bradlee Frierott, left, and Mike Bakko work on a construction project. Frierott was hired through an On The Job program that WWU assists.
A-1 Builders employees Bradlee Frierott, left, and Mike Bakko work on a construction project. Frierott was hired through an On The Job program that WWU assists. eabell@bhamherald.com

With the economy nearly at full employment, workers are looking for better paying jobs and companies are having trouble finding qualified people. Two agencies are teaming up to help.

Western Washington University’s Small Business Development Center has partnered with Washington state’s Northwest Workforce Council to increase awareness about the On The Job Training program. The state pays employers up to $5,000 in wage reimbursements to hire and train someone who might be a good fit for a company but doesn’t meet all the minimum qualifications. The SBDC will focus on helping employers tap into a labor pool that’s available in this program, while the workforce council will focus on getting workers into the program.

This is potentially a big boost for people who are in entry level jobs who can’t seem to reach that next step to a higher paying job. It’s also a benefit for companies looking for workers said CJ Seitz, director of the SBDC’s Bellingham office. She said construction and manufacturing companies are two sectors experiencing worker shortages locally that pay well.

Patrick Martin is someone having trouble filling positions. As general manager for A-1 Builders, he’s been searching for months to find qualified carpenters. He’s found plenty of candidates who might be a good fit, but don’t have all the skills needed for the job.

When he talked to the SBDC about this problem, they helped him go through the paperwork needed and connected him with the workforce council. So far he’s hired two people through the program and has been pleased with the results. One of those workers was a yoga teacher with not much background in carpentry, but had a strong willingness to learn and work as part of team, Martin said.

“It is incumbent on the company to have an internal training program,” Martin said.

One area of focus is workers between the ages 18 and 24, said Alex Kosmides, deputy director at the Northwest Workforce Council. This is an age group that usually lands entry-level positions but has difficulties finding better paying jobs.

The Whatcom County construction industry has had a difficult time filling positions partly because of what’s happen in the economy in the past 10 years, said Anneliese Vance-Sherman, a regional economist for the state. That sector employed 8,300 people locally in June 2008, prior to the global financial meltdown that fall. Construction companies quickly cut workers at the end of 2008 and didn’t hire for several years. At its lowest point, in April 2013, the local construction industry employed 5,300 people.

The Whatcom construction sector didn’t reach pre-recession employment levels again until earlier this year. During this long period of stagnant job growth, people in construction moved on to other careers, creating a shortage, Kosmides said. Not only is there a shortage, but early signs indicated it will be a busy construction season this summer, he said.

To find out more about the program, call the SBDC at 369-778-1762 or the workforce council at 360-676-3209.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz