Worker Retraining Program: Get your tuition paid, start a new career

The demise of Worker Retraining has been greatly exaggerated.

Joy Prosise is the Associate Director of Workforce Education and Special Projects at Worker Retraining. While the program has indeed run out of funds, as reported in the April 5 Seattle Times, the new fiscal year begins July 1.

This means that funds will be available to pay tuition summer quarter applicants, Prosise said.

“Word gets out that there’s no money, and people don’t even bother coming in,” she said. “This is a temporary situation.” Students on unemployment benefits, or who have exhausted unemployment benefits, should come in and see them, she said. Other students might also qualify for help in certain situations.

“The Worker Retraining is designed to help people who have been laid of or on unemployment, [and who] need to have some additional skills to be competitive in the workplace,” Prosise said. For instance, the program helps IT workers with out-of-date skills, as well as people who are in declining industries and need a new career. Worker Retraining will pay for your tuition and help you work with state agencies to get more help – if you qualify.

One obstacle to getting a grant from the government is paperwork. Some people who need retraining find long forms intimidating, or feel discouraged after a fruitless job search and give up. Others have trouble finding all of the information that they need, because of out-of-state relatives, lost documentation, or other disruptions that can happen when you lose a job. Prosise says that while Worker Retraining has very simple paperwork, getting permission from the state to allow a person on unemployment to go to school is more complicated. However, Worker Retraining helps people work with the state and get the forms filled out correctly. “If [students] are just intimidated by [the paperwork], we’re going to help them through the process,” Prosise said.

Worker Retraining is designed to get people back to work as soon as possible. For this reason, the grants can’t be used for a transferable degree. They can be used for any job skill that is considered by the state to be in demand, such as accounting, early childhood education, and interior design.

As for next year, it’s too soon to say for sure, but additional funding may be provided to help retrain workers, Prosise said, perhaps through other programs. If this happens, she expects that information will be available through Worker Retraining.

Brock Liston has a problem. He switched from full-time to part-time at his carpentry job last September to take business accounting courses at Bellevue College.

Unfortunately, this meant that when his company laid off workers in December, he was among the first to go.

According to Liston, he was told that he did not qualify for unemployment benefits because he was already a student in the business transfer degree program. He is working on his accounting degree.

Liston knows about the certificate programs for bookkeeping that might help him qualify for retraining money, but he’s chosen to continue working towards his transfer degree. “I think some of [the certificate programs] are good, but I’d be willing to bet that I’d just get another job where I’m making 13, 14, maybe 15 bucks an hour, and I’m looking for something that’s … a career [on a] long term basis,” Liston said.

He is still studying accounting, but he said it was hard to find the money to pay his bills. $300 from unemployment isn’t much, but it would sure help, he said. He hopes that next year he will get more government help, but in the meantime, he is doing whatever odd jobs he can find to pay his bills and plans to work this summer to save for next year.

Prosise made it very clear that she could offer no advice to anyone without talking to him or her personally, and would not comment directly on Liston’s situation. However, she did say that students who have been recently laid off, and have been rejected for unemployment benefits because they are in school, should come talk to her office. Worker retraining can often help students get enrolled in unemployment or find other programs that can help.

Students should not assume that they do not qualify for help, Prosise said. Instead, they should come in and explain their situations to Worker Retraining and other offices such as Financial Aid. The experts at these offices may know surprising ways to help you succeed.