GRANT COUNTY - Employers and employees could qualify for grant funding to improve job skills, according to Sally Bartlett, the county's economic development coordinator.

One program available through Barlett's office could allow employers to tap into $55,000 in grant funding to increase training of their employees.

So far, only one applicant has applied for the funding in Grant County, she said, but she hopes more will check it out.

The Employer Workforce Training Fund Grant Program (EWTF) could help a bank, real-estate office or repair-service employer increase the certification level of an individual employee or a group of employees, to name a few examples. Business owners and their employees in the wood products and lumber industry could also qualify for the funds.

A separate grant program has $25,000 available in scholarships to help workers get more training - whether through college classes, trade courses or other training.

Both programs require a match from the applicant. The money must be spent and the training completed by October 2009, so Bartlett suggests that those who are interested pick up an application soon.

The EWTF program was created in 2003 by executive order of Gov. Ted Kulongoski, with an aim to revitalize Oregon's economy by bolstering the current workforce.

The $55,000 EWTF fund is available to employers in Grant, Harney and Malheur counties. Bartlett said there are many ways the money may be used.

"People need to be creative with the money, so it will not only benefit their company, but the individuals who have training needs," she said.

For example, the Rogue Valley Workforce Development Council used such funds to help leverage another grant, leading to the development of a program called Southern Oregon Power Up Productivity Academy. The academy provides scholarships to working students and others to take training courses through a cooperative effort with local businesses.

Applicants for the EWTF must have been an Oregon business for at least 120 days in Grant, Harney or Malheur counties.

The grant review committee will give priority to:

? Training in occupations or skills where shortage exists in region or state.

? Efforts that seek to maximize investment of funds by leveraging other resources in the region.

? Training programs which provide transferable skills, raise individual competencies and lead to industry certification or skills standards.

? Training of workers who are paid wages that meet or exceed the median hourly wage in the county in which they are trained, or result in wage gain or career ladder development. (Median wage: Grant: $13.87, Harney: $9.93, Malheur: $11.97)

Government officials expect the program to support the retention and growth of living wage jobs, a skilled workforce and competitive businesses in Oregon.

New this year, is $25,000 in funds for currently employed individuals (at least one hour a week) who want to get additional education.

A person working at a fast-food restaurant could work on a teaching degree, Barlett said, or a certified nurse's assistant could work toward becoming a registered nurse.

"It doesn't matter where they are working," she said, "but they have to be currently employed and seeking training for a higher-level position that meets the demand for high wage, high demand or high skill."

"I think it's a great resource for the three counties," Bartlett said of the two programs, "because it's money that individuals or employers don't have to put out for training. And it also enhances employers' training budgets."

Applications are available at Barlett's office at 530 E. Main in John Day, 575-1555, or the Training and Employment Consortium at 118 S. Washington in Canyon city, 575-0251.

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