Labor Plans $11M in Sandy Recovery Training Grants

To help businesses recover from Sandy, the state Labor Department later this month will start awarding “Recovery4Jersey” employee training grants designed to rebuild the competitiveness of employers whose operations were hampered by the storm.

The Labor Department initially will release $4 million in Recovery4Jersey money, which was carved out of the state’s customized training grant program, now called Skills4Jersey. The second phase of Recover4Jersey will award $7 million next month.

Assistant Labor Commissioner Mary Ellen Clark said when affected businesses rebuild, “they will have new equipment and new machinery, and they will need to retool and retrain their employees.”

For example, utility companies and large manufacturers “will want to do things differently and more proactively” based on what they have learned from Sandy, she said. The grants will address the needs of companies with high-skilled employees: “We want to acknowledge that the cost to retrain and retool existing staff on the higher end is costly to companies. The storm has caused them to do things in a better, more proactive way, and we want to support that.”

Recovery4Jersey is part of the $26 million in job skills and literacy training grants budgeted for this year. In the past three fiscal years, the state has awarded a total of 930 training grants valued at $71.8 million.

Included in this year’s grants budget is $4 million for Opportunity4Jersey, which will make grants to consortiums of training organizations and community colleges with direct ties to New Jersey employers to address a “skills gap” that causes jobs to go unfilled, despite New Jersey’s 9.6 percent unemployment rate.

“We have businesses telling us they have job openings, but can’t find workers with the necessary skills to fill them,” said Labor Commissioner Hal Wirths. “We can help by involving companies with job openings in the training process.”

The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, a nonprofit that provides training to manufacturers, has applied to Recovery4Jersey to fund a 15-day program to assist manufacturers affected by Sandy. John Kennedy, chief operating officer of NJMEP, said the program will provide an expedited way for companies to recover from the storm, prepare for future disasters and hasten their growth. It will address such issues as safeguarding critical data, insurance coverage and environmental risks.

Kennedy said after Sandy hit, NJMEP was in touch with more than 1,000 manufacturers in New Jersey, helping them restore power, contact FEMA, locate roofing contractors and find temporary space while they repaired damaged factories, among other problems. NJMEP estimates that nearly all the companies it reached had lost one to five days of production, while 22 percent were either severely damaged by the storm or lost two or more weeks of production.

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