image of group of people with 300th job hireJune 26, 2018 -- After being out of work for over a year, Maribel Valencia-Barajas has a new job as a medical assistant/medical records specialist at Westchester Neurological Consultants in Yonkers. Her position is all thanks to Jobs Waiting, a federally-funded regional job training partnership which trains long-term and short-term unemployed individuals for jobs in the region’s fastest growing sectors. Valencia-Barajas is the 300th individual to obtain employment through the program, a milestone announced today by Westchester County Executive George Latimer at a press conference in White Plains.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY17), who was instrumental in securing the grant for Westchester and six other Hudson Valley counties, joined Latimer in congratulating Valencia-Barajas and the entire Jobs Waiting partnership, composed of employers, training providers, career coaches, job developers and others.

“What this program does for people who have a drive and a determination to have a better life, is close the skills gap,” Latimer said. “The ability is there, but there are skills that are needed in order for someone to be hired in a particular job. This program builds a bridge between the individual who is talented, but needs that extra training to secure a job.”

Latimer also had an urgent message for businesses in the region seeking qualified workers: businesses that hire Jobs Waiting candidates may receive up to $40,000 in incentives for training.  To date, over $2 million has been disbursed to employers for paid “work tryouts,” customized training for existing employees, and on-the-job training (OJT), he noted. Businesses have until October 31 to take full advantage of the incentives provided by Jobs Waiting, a Ready to Work Initiative funded by the U.S. Department of Labor.

According to Latimer, Jobs Waiting addresses key challenges faced by Westchester businesses—a workforce skills gap, and the need to fill thousands of vacant positions in healthcare, which is an economic engine in Westchester and the Hudson Valley. Since launching in 2015, the Program has achieved remarkable results: over 460 individuals have undergone career readiness training and 300 unemployed individuals now have jobs in healthcare.

According to Congresswoman Lowey, the program represents a critical federal workforce investment. “Our ability to lead in an increasingly globalized economy depends on our commitment to investing in and building up a 21st century workforce of highly-skilled individuals across growing industry sectors. Training individuals to fill these jobs right here in the Hudson Valley is exactly the type of smart, federal investment that our nation should be making. As Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee, I will continue to ensure that Westchester and other Hudson Valley communities receive the resources they need to boost job growth, spur innovation, and grow their economies.”

According to William M. Mooney, Jr., president and CEO of the Westchester County Association, which is the project manager for Jobs Waiting (under the leadership of Jason Chapin), the Westchester-Putnam Workforce Development Board’s Ready to Work grant program is among the most successful in the nation. More than 250 of the 463 participants have enrolled in occupational skills training, with 150 earning healthcare certifications and credentials — more than any other Ready to Work grantee in the nation. In addition, more than 200 employers have hired over 300 participants, and 79% of the employed participants are now working full-time. 

“But it’s much more than statistics,” explained Mooney. “For those out of work, this Program has been a life-saver. Jobs Waiting has given people hope for their futures,” Mooney said. “It’s also a model of collaboration, with benefits for everyone involved.”

Also attending today’s press conference were representatives from Montefiore Health, Crystal Run Healthcare, ENT and Allergy Associates, St. John’s Riverside Hospital, and WESTMED Medical Group, to name a few. Additionally, several training providers including Westchester Community College, the Westchester School for Dental Assistants and Southern Westchester BOCES were on hand to show their support.

A resource for business

Thom Kleiner, Executive Director of the Westchester-Putnam Workforce Development Board, which initiated the grant application and oversees the program, said: “According to the Labor Department, for the first time in 20 years, there are more job openings than people looking for work. This Program not only helps employers find qualified and motivated candidates, it offers incentives to train them with the skills needed to succeed.”

Major healthcare employers from across the Hudson Valley have hired Jobs Waiting graduates. Several attended the press conference today, including ENT and Allergy Associates and Crystal Run Healthcare, who have each hired 12 candidates from the Program, more than any other in the region.

Eric Saidel, Director of Human Resources at ENT and Allergy said: “The incentives have helped us tap into a pool of enthusiastic and vetted candidates, with less financial risk. We have taken advantage of the OJT funding to train our hires in proprietary software, customer service training, corporate structure and systems and industry-specific skills. The training helps them get up to speed faster, and employees know what is expected of them as well. It helps build confidence on both sides."

Mary DeFreitas, Chief Human Resources Officer at Crystal Run Healthcare noted that the Program takes less effort than traditional recruitment methods. “So it saves our recruiters time in the vetting process,” she pointed out. “It has provided us access to a pool of pre-screened applicants who have demonstrated a desire to work in healthcare, and the Program staff is in touch with us long after the candidate is hired to ensure that we have a good fit. There’s a lot of competition for talent in the region, and Jobs Waiting has helped us find qualified employees.”

Kleiner also announced the launch of a new advertising campaign designed to promote the Jobs Waiting business incentives, which include up to $40,000 in funds per hire, depending on the size of the organization. The campaign debuts in local media outlets and via social media channels this week. “With the grant soon to expire, we want to ensure employers who are looking for qualified candidates know about these resources and how to access them,” explained Kleiner.

For her part, Valencia-Barajas says the Program has made a profound difference in her life.

“I worked a lot of retail jobs but wanted more,” said Valencia-Barajas, one of four cousins who have all participated in the Jobs Waiting program (three of the four are already employed). “Then I had my son, and looked back at what I had done with my life so far and thought, I can do more with my future. This Program made me feel like I had something to offer employers. It gave me the confidence to put myself out there.”

Valencia-Barajas completed her Jobs Waiting job readiness boot camp during the summer of 2017, then enrolled in a five-month, 900-hour medical assistant program at the Westchester School for Dental Assistants. After completing a six-week paid work tryout at Westchester Neurological Consultants, she was offered a permanent, part-time position there.

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