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‘Step Up’ hiring program marks one year

One year in, Connecticut’s Subsidized Training and Employment Program — Step Up for short — has helped hundreds of unemployed individuals find work by offering to pay a portion of the costs to train them.

Since the program began in February 2012, roughly 1,100 employees have been hired by 377 companies across the state, said Mark Polzella, director of Labor Operations at the Connecticut Department of Labor.

The program attempts both to reduce the unemployment rate and close the number of job openings left unfilled due to gaps in applicants’ skill levels. So far, 245 employees — more than a fifth of those hired through the program — have reached the six-month employment mark, at which point the training wage subsidy ends. The training grants up to $12,500 per new employee.

“It’s a tremendous program for employers and job seekers to take advantage of,” said Polzella. “What it’s designed to do is help mitigate the expenses of hiring a new person who may not have all the skills they are looking for. It mitigates the risk in hiring a new person and the cost of training them.”

About $30 million has been allocated for the program, which is slated to run through June 2014. Previously only small manufacturers with fewer than 100 employees were able to take advantage of the program, but it has since been expanded to small businesses.

A key population the state has sought to help through the Step Up program has been veterans returning from active duty. As of November, companies of any size that hire new veterans are also eligible to receive training subsidies.

“There’s a real kind of focus on these folks who have served our country and allowing opportunities for them to be hired,” Polzella said.

With upwards of 7,000 new veterans expected to return to Connecticut, Polzella said it was important the group of historically underemployed people find jobs. Veterans who served at least 90 days in a combat zone in either Iraq or Afghanistan are qualified. So far roughly 60 veterans have been hired through the program.

“The veterans coming back have had difficulties finding employment,” said Tom Long, director of communications for The WorkPlace Inc., which helps administer Step Up in the southwest region of the state. “The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 10 percent while the while overall unemployment is close to 8 percent. That’s certainly something that catches peoples’ attention and needs to be addressed.”

The WorkPlace, based in Bridgeport, is a workforce development organization focused on preparing workers for careers and strengthening the workforce for employers. The WorkPlace also serves as the Department of Labor’s Regional Workforce Investment Board for southwest Connecticut.

“The program has been going very well for the first year,” Long said. “We’re certainly happy for the 245 that have passed the six-month mark. Next we’ll see if they are staying on later and what the longer-term impact is.”

Long said many companies have said that without the program the new employees wouldn’t have been hired. But with the added productivity from new employees, companies have been able to grow and support a larger staff with new revenue sources.

“The goal from the outset was originally helping small businesses and moving more unemployed people to be employed,” Long said. “We’re seeing companies take advantage of the program with multiple new hires. It’s not as likely that they would have hired them.”

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About The Author

Jennifer Bissell
Reporter

Jennifer Bissell is a reporter for both the Fairfield and Westchester business journals. Previously she attended the University of Minnesota and contributed to several regional publications including the St. Paul Pioneer Press, St. Cloud Times and Twin Cities Business magazine.

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