Local business grants introduced

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PITTSFIELD -- David Cruise compares matching potential employees with potential employers to operating a dating service.

"We're like eHarmony," said Cruise. "We want to match up good workers with good employers."

On Tuesday, Cruise shared grant information with about 50 local owners of small and medium-sized businesses who attended a breakfast forum sponsored by the BerkshireWorks One-Stop Career Center at the Country Club of Pittsfield.

Cruise is the director of business and employer services for the Hampden County Regional Employment Board and also oversees regional distribution of funds from the On-the-Job Training National Emergency Grants (OJT) program. BerkshireWorks is an OJT partner.

The participants also heard from Greg Tuvek, a western Massachusetts field representative for the state's Workforce Training Fund Program. He briefed employers on the Hiring Incentive Training Grant (HITG) program, which has been around since 1999.

"It's about a new job creation model." said Cruise, who manages the area of the state located between the Berkshires and the I-495 beltway. "If new jobs are going to be sustained, it's going to be through small and medium enterprises. That's where growth is going to occur."

He said that Massachusetts initially received $387,000 in funding so one-stop career centers could partner with local employers to create contracts to hire dislocated workers and provide on-the-job training. To be considered an eligible dislocated worker, a person must be unemployed for at least the past 22 weeks.

Through both programs, training expenditures can be reimbursed to the employer through the fund. The goal is for the businesses to ultimately keep the newly trained employee on a full-time basis.

Cruise said the state's partnerships and progress reports garnered more funding in August, and now have a combined total of $685,000. This gives the state the capacity to write between 45 and 48 contracts. To date, 33 contracts have been written; seven of those contracts are held in Berkshire County.

Since Jeffrey Clemons of Pittsfield opened his business, Clemons Builders Inc. in 2007, he's applied for and received two OJT and two HITG contracts.

"The people I've found really want to work," Clemons said. "They have experience, but maybe just not the specific experience I need."

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He was initially hesitant about both the training and the application process.

"I build houses, I don't have time for a lot of paper work," he said.

The application process is streamlined because Cruise and BerkshireWorks Career Development Counselor and Contracts Specialist Shelly Icardi write the contracts with the employer's consent.

"They do some vetting of applicants for me, then I interview them," said Clemons. "Personally, I don't know why any businesses wouldn't want to apply for this. To me, it's a no-brainer."

Training Grants 101

For employers:

To learn more about eligibility and criteria or to begin the application process for the On-the-Job Training National Emergency Grants (OJT) Program, call Shelly Icardi at BerkshireWorks at (413) 499-2220, Ext. 155 or email sicardi@berkshireworks.org.

To learn more about the state Workforce Training Fund Program's Hiring Incentive Training Grant (HITG) program, visit detma.org. Employers can also call assistant director Jason Albert at (617) 626-5190.

To learn more about Work Opportunity Tax Credits, visit www.doleta.gov or call (617) 626-5730.

For job seekers:

BerkshireWorks is also hosting a job fair on Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, One West St., Pittsfield. More than 60 employers are expected to attend. For a list of employers, visit www.berkshireworks.org. For more information, call (413) 499-2220.


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