Retraining surges in recession

on .


When Dan Bartochowski was laid off from his job at a tire retread shop in Griffith after 18 years, he had an inkling what he might do next.

"I have all kinds of contacts in the industry because I was always working with guys who drive trucks, who own trucks, so it's something I thought I could do," he said.

But it wasn't easy getting there. The 46-year-old single dad was out of work for more than half a year before securing a work force retraining grant for classes at DriveCo, a truck-driving school in Gary.

With the unemployment rate at 9.9 percent and 33,228 people out of work in Northwest Indiana, legions of others have been doing the same as Bartochowski this year -- learning new tricks for new trades in order to land jobs.

Recently, Bartochowski was practicing parallel parking a cab and 48-foot trailer under the watchful eye of DriveCo instructor John Spoonhour. He would be taking his CDL test within a few days.

"You're never to old to learn something new," Bartochowski said.

The Center of Workforce Innovations reports that in the past six months, 458 jobless workers have enrolled in government-sponsored retraining programs that it administers. The center oversees WorkOne employment offices in the region.

Many more workers, both unemployed and employed, are paying for retraining using their own funds, school financial aid and loans, said Bill Thon, economic development and work force director at Ivy Tech Community College.

Ivy Tech Community College's Northwest Indiana region campuses have seen enrollment increase 17 percent this spring semester as compared to the spring semester of 2008, according to the college's figures.

Some smaller training schools also are seeing enrollments surge.

Enrollment for the three-week Certified Nurses Aide (CNA) course at Med Ed Inc. has doubled in the past year, Med Ed owner Pat Christoff said. Enrollment in the two-month course to become a Qualified Medication Aide have tripled.

Whether an unemployed worker is thinking of paying for retraining themselves or looking for a government retraining grant, they will need help sorting it all out, Thon said.

"Anyone dislocated or unemployed, the first thing they have to do is go to the WorkOne office," Thon said.

There, they can take tests, meet with a counselor and begin to figure out how to get the training they need, Thon said.

The Center of Workforce Innovations staffs the WorkOnes with counselors and contracts with colleges and vocational schools, like DriveCo, to provide work force training.

Bartochowski said he was required to write research papers and interview employers about his chances of landing a job before his $4,000 training grant was approved.

"I was one of the lucky ones," Bartochowski said. "A lot of people can't get them."

Back to school

Enrollments at some Northwest Indiana institutions of higher learning have increased significantly during the recession and are holding steady at others.

Ivy Tech Community College
Spring 09 enrollment: 7,167
Spring 08 enrollment: 6,110

Indiana University Northwest
Spring 09: 4,656
Spring 08: 4,447

Valparaiso University
Spring 09 enrollment: 3,790
Spring 08 enrollment: 3,697

Purdue University Calumet
Spring 09 enrollment: 8,944
Spring 08 enrollment: 8,962

Calumet College of St. Joseph
Spring 09 enrollment: 1201
Spring 08 enrollment: 1200

Sources: Ivy Tech Community College; Indiana University Northwest;
Purdue University Calumet; Valparaiso University; Calumet College of St. Joseph