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Minnesota Job Seekers in Jeopardy Under Current Budget Negotiations

May 19, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Job creation has been identified by state lawmakers as a priority this session. But as the legislature finalizes budget negotiations this week, some observers are concerned that the cuts-only approach taken so far could mean a 12-percent cut to one of the state's more successful job-training programs.

Latrice Williams completed training last year that was funded by the Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership. She landed a job at U.S. Bank within a month, and has a message for lawmakers considering such cuts.

"Don't cut it. So many people need this. So many people don't have the opportunities, don't have the skills they need to succeed. This program can change people's lives; it changed my life, it changed my kids' lives. Everyday I wake up and I am grateful for this program, because without this program I wouldn't be here - I wouldn't be where I'm at today."

Not long ago, the single mother of four had no high school education and few job prospects. Completing her GED and then going through training at Project for Pride in Living, a Jobs Skills Partnership program site, gave Williams the skills and confidence to land a good job.

"We got great coaching for interviewing skills, how to keep our job, and what we can do to improve the things that caused us not to have a job in the past. It changed my life. I got a job that I can be at forever because I went through this banking class and I didn't give up - and I didn't have people give up on me."

For the first time in a long while, Williams says, she is optimistic about her family's future. She adds that she would like to go to college for banking and finance, and advance her career options.

Steve Cramer is the executive director of Project for Pride in Living. He says Williams's story illustrates how a relatively small investment can reap major rewards.

Cramer points out that the next generation of Minnesotans is becoming increasingly more ethnically diverse, so it's important to provide them with a bridge to employment.

"Programs like this really are critical, if we look down the road 10 or 15 or 20 years, to making sure that the state has a trained workforce that can really allow us to stay competitive."

In the context of a $5 billion dollar deficit, it's tempting to slash a little here and there, Cramer admits, but he warns that the state is bound to pay a hefty price if workforce development is neglected.

"I think the state's best economic interest is served by a trained workforce, a strong higher-education system, a strong K-12 system, a strong social safety net. Those are the fundamental building blocks of a healthy Minnesota. My hope is that the legislators find some more balanced approach."

According to the most recent Job Skills Partnership annual report, the program matches more than $2 of business, higher-education and philanthropic investment for every dollar the state pays. Depending on the type of training, the average hourly wage of trainees who secured work ranged from almost $12 dollars to more than $23 dollars.

The Jobs Skills Partnership annual report is available at http://bit.ly/l1AdYc.


Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN