Friday marked the end of a well-funded era for the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board, as federal stimulus dollars officially dried up after two years.
The agency is now seeing its own budget and staff reductions, even as its mission is to train Burbank and Glendale residents for jobs remains critical in a struggling economy.
Agency leader Don Nakamoto said the Verdugo Workforce Investment Board received about $3.5 million in stimulus money over the past two years and had an annual budget of a $7 million. Starting July 1, it will be operating on $4.5 million annually or less, depending on his luck in securing government grants.
The agency’s staff, which peaked at 56 people, is now at about 50. Nakamoto said deeper cuts are not necessary because much of the board’s funding goes directly to employers and outside job training consultants.
The mission of the job center has been to identify strong sectors of the economy and to put stimulus money to work there. The result was a focus on health care, which has been a national bright spot throughout the recession, and local manufacturers with ties to aviation and military contracting.
“We were able to launch some pretty effective programs that had direct impacts on the local economy,” said Nakamoto, a labor market specialist.
Workforce Investment Board Chairman Rich Roche said his colleagues sought ways not just to save jobs, but to strengthen businesses.
One of the high-impact results was a partnership with the nonprofit California Manufacturing Technology Consulting to help 19 local firms gain certification that would allow them to continue competing for government contracts.
Companies that included Accurate Dial & Nameplate Inc. in Glendale and Centerpoint Manufacturing Co. in Burbank — both of which count Boeing Corp. and other aviation giants as clients — used stimulus dollars to upgrade their job manuals and equipment to stay on the government’s list of approved subcontractors.
Nakamoto estimates the program saved 170 jobs and added 24 more.
The board also funded on-the-job training for 60 recent nursing school graduates at Verdugo Hills Hospital, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, Glendale Memorial Hospital and Glendale Adventist Medical Center.
“New nursing graduates are finding it hard to get that new position and training in the acute setting,” said Kristin Anderson, manager of recruitment at Glendale Memorial.
Hospitals put trainees through a rigorous 12-week training session, and Nakamoto said reluctance by hospitals to take on the training burden results in experienced nurses being drawn from outside the country or hospitals delaying hires.
Glendale Memorial has brought on more than 40 registered nurses who were new grads in the last two years, Anderson said. The stimulus funding, she said, “was a huge support.”
Nakamoto said perhaps the most successful effort was creating the Verdugo Power Academy. The program has trained more than 80 people to work for power utilities, sending them up power poles high above Glendale to get hands-on experience.
The workforce investment board provided the funds, Glendale Community College put together the curriculum and Glendale Water & Power offered on-site training and opportunity. Roughly two-thirds of Verdugo Power Academy graduates have found jobs in the field, according to Nakamoto, not including the 22 who earned their certificates in June.
While unemployment in the region hovers around 10%, Nakamoto said he has seen some progress in the labor market in the last two years. In 2010, more than 9,000 people a month were coming to the Verdugo Jobs Center on Central Avenue to look for work. The figure is now roughly 6,500.
“In retrospect, during the recession panic, employers likely cut their workforces deeper than they should have,” Nakamoto said. “They still remain cautious about hiring back workers, but some unemployed people are getting jobs.”
In deciding where to invest stimulus dollars, Roche said he would encourage fellow board members to walk into the Verdugo Jobs Center on Central Avenue and take in the scene as people use the center’s computers, phone banks and listings in their job search.
“The question for the board was, ‘What would you do in those people’s shoes?’” Roche said.