By Nick Worth
When the Catalyst Paper Mill in Snowflake announced on July 31 of last year it would shut down on Sept. 30, 2012, a “Rapid Response” plan was put into motion by workers of the Arizona Workforce Connection (AWC), the local arm of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).
WIA is a federal employment and training program designed to serve disadvantaged adults and youth, as well as dislocated workers. Oversight of the program is provided by the state Department of Economic Security (DES).
The local AWC covers both Navajo and Apache counties, and is overseen by a 26-member governing board made up of a diverse group of area business and municipal leaders.
According to Carla Fails, WIA senior secretary for Navajo and Apache counties, any business with over 50 employees that plans to close has to issue a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN). Once that occurs, the rapid response can be carried out.
In the case of the Catalyst shut down, that response was a job fair set up at the mill site with employers from across the state that were interested in hiring the soon-to-be displaced mill workers. Representatives of 45 employers attended the event, including Hatch Motors, Arizona State Prisons, Summit Regional Health Care, BIO-Pappel International and Navajo County, among others.
More than 150 workers attended the fair and several found new jobs as a result of it.
Fails said during the last year, the AWC has also held rapid responses for the Snowflake Power Plant and Greer Lodge.
The rapid responses aren’t the only service the AWC offers, said Fails. Regular job fairs are also a big part of what the group does.
“We also held job fairs for the Popeye’s Chicken at the Holbrook Travel America, the Cal-Ranch Store in Show Low and for the Wal Mart in Winslow when they were remodeling,” she said.
WIA Case Manager Andrea Harings said in the case of the Popeye’s restaurant, the AWC set up laptop computers at the restaurant, and helped applicants fill out and file their applications online, and set up interviews for them.
“Some of them were hired that day,” Harings said. “Those are the kind of job fairs I like.”
The AWC also helps with job training and educational opportunities.
“We’re trying to partner with the college,” said Fails, adding that Northland Pioneer College (NPC) sets up the classes and the AWC helps support the students who qualify for the program with their needs for the classes.
A good example is NPC’s Certified Nursing Assistant program. The AWC can help qualifying students with tuition, books, and specialized clothing and equipment needed for the course, such as scrubs and a stethoscope.
“We like to break down barriers,” Harings said. “People who are high-risk at need, felons, people on food stamps, all have barriers to getting a job. We want to help them get past those barriers.”
She said the AWC has sent several people to school to obtain their Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). In addition to helping one particular client attend the CDL classes, Harings said the group even purchased steel-toed work boots for him.
“He now has his CDL and he has a truck driving job paying him over $17 per hour,” she said. “He said no one had ever tried to help him like that before.”
Harings noted that another client is earning her high school diploma through the Prima Vera online high school courses. The WIA is helping to pay the costs associated with the program.
One of the former Catalyst workers who lost his job is now working for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad in Montana. The WIA paid for some of his relocation expenses.
“We can help with things like a U-Haul rental, fuel, utilities and rent,” said Fails, though she noted there are limits to the assistance.
Fails said the AWC has a set allotment for supportive services for each client, and explained that all programs the AWC sends people to have to be approved through the state, since the funding is from federal monies, distributed through the state.
Also popular is the AWC Summer Youth Program, which employs young people ages 16 to 18 for a six-week period each summer.
Fails said Harings and her fellow case manager Holly Nelson go to businesses and cities, libraries, the Navajo County Fiduciary and to the various chambers of commerce in order to place kids in jobs.
“We mentor them on how to prepare a resume and the life skills they need to work in various businesses,” said Fails. She said the teens’ wages are all paid through the WIA. “So it’s a good deal for the employers.
“Once the six weeks are over, it’s up to the employers whether to keep them on,” Fails explained.
“Most of the kids from this summer were kept on,” said Harings, noting that more than 40 kids participated in the program in the summer of 2012, but only 11 could be accommodated this past summer.
“We’d like to do more this year,” Harings said. Fails added that the number of kids in the program is determined by the funds available.
Fails also noted that the best time to apply is starting at the beginning of April each year.
“We like the program to start on June 1,” she said.
Applications for the program can be found in the schools, online, or by contacting Harings at (928) 289-4644 or Nelson at (928) 532-4316.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about employment for us,” said Harings.
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By Nick Worth