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Federal grant to boost local workforce efforts

by Cameron Gerber | September 20, 2022 at 4:05 a.m.

An inter-regional effort focusing on job training and placement will benefit job-seekers in nearly half of the state pursuing in-demand jobs during the next few years, including those in Cole County.

The Central Workforce Development Region, which encompasses much of Mid-Missouri with Cole County at its heart, was selected as a sub-recipient of the U.S. Economic Development Administration's $17.5 million Good Jobs Challenge grant, the group announced last week.

The region will share the pot with three others in Missouri to form the Quadra-Regional Workforce Alliance, which will make use of the grant money across a total of 51 Missouri counties. Funds will go toward job training and placement for underserved job-seekers in the southern and central portions of the state. Sectors targeted include paraprofessional education services, health care, logistics, distribution and transportation.

The central region comprises 19 of those 51 locations, including Cole, Boone and Callaway counties. The grant program's life is set to run for the next three years.

The grant was a very competitive one with an exhaustive approval process, said Central Workforce Development Board Executive Director Amy Sublett -- so much so that the group's proposal was the only Missouri-based application to receive funding.

"I'm really excited about it because I've been working in this field for a long time, and we've never had a grant this size, and so I think it'll allow us some flexibility that we really haven't had before," Sublett said in an interview. "We were the only ones from within Missouri that submitted a grant request that got it, and our opinion is that it's because we took this regional approach."

The only other area of the Show-Me State to benefit from grant funds outside of the coalition's communities will be the St. Louis area through the multi-state WTIA Workforce Institute's application.

Sublett said while the application was submitted as a group, each region had outlined its own regional strategies and priorities. She said the common thread within the group was a focus on the transportation and logistics sectors, both of which have been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic, a focus that will manifest in the Mid-Missouri area as well.

Sublett said the central region's plans include using grant funding to expand commercial driver's license (CDL) training options through State Fair Community College's campuses in Eldon and Booneville, the Clement Truck Driving Academy in Lebanon and Moberly Area Community College.

They also plan to develop a warehouse certification program in the area, providing an alternative to the nearest site in Kansas City. That part of the plan was facilitated with help from Job Point in Columbia and with feedback from local distribution groups, including Dollar General and MBS Textbook Exchange. The group also hopes to partner with the Boone Health system to offer entry-level employees, such as those in food or custodial services, to receive on-the-job training for more specialized positions like surgical and lab techs or LPNs, another area she said was facing mass job openings and high demand.

Precise dollar amounts for each effort have yet to be solidified, Sublett said. The grant is set to officially take effect Oct. 1, though it will likely take a few weeks to get contracts in place.

The Good Jobs Challenge is a product of the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The program, which doled out $500 million in total allotments to workforce systems across the country, is meant to enhance workforce opportunities and bolster innovation and competition within the U.S. economy. Awards were granted to 32 projects in as many states.

Missouri's allotment is headed by the Springfield Department of Workforce Development, which led a four-region coalition in seeking funds for workforce opportunities throughout central and southern Missouri.

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