Eastern Workforce Investment Board officials are pushing to fund and expand a program that could put a dent in Muskogee’s unemployment rate.
Muskogee County’s unemployment rate rose in June to 6.4 percent, which equals 2,050 people, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission.
The On-The-Job Training Program reimburses up to 50 percent of a company’s cost while the employee is learning their job for up to six months, said Connie Sharp, programs operation manager at EWIB. It gets its funding from a grant through the U.S. Department of Commerce. Sharp said most placed in the OJT have been unemployed for at least a year. Those in the OJT program are employed by the company.
EWIB officials say the program has a success rate of more than 90 percent, which is why they hope to expand the program. In the last group of OJT participants, 14 of the 15 retained jobs, Sharp said.
The program works, said Motorsports of Muskogee office manager Pam Bower.
“I’m going to have to train whoever comes in anyway,” Bower said. “But with this program, the idea is they have no knowledge and I train them from ground zero, and Workforce helps.”
Motorsports of Muskogee — which sells ATV, motorcycle, utility vehicles, and watercraft — has utilized the OJT program since May 2011, Bower said.
“It has been very good so far,” Bower said. “For one thing, they pre-screen the people and help you get the type of person you’re looking for. And then they set up the interviews. Whether or not you hire is up to the employer. Once they start, you kind of grade them on how well they are obtaining their goals. If you’re not happy with them, you can call and request someone else and start the process over.”
Those in the OJT program go through a series of assessment tests. EWIB then sends the employer a pool of applicants who best fit the job description.
The program enables the long-term unemployed to get a foot “back in the door,” EWIB Executive Director Nanette Robertson said. Some participants are content and will stay long-term while others use it as a stepping stone to establish a work history.
“The first person we hired through them, was wonderful, he set the bar very high,” Bower said. “He did later get a job offer that I could not compete with.”
Either way, there is satisfaction, Bower said.
“I feel for anyone who has been out of work. There for the grace of God, go any of us,” Bower said. “And I would hope that anybody who’s in the situation and gets put in the situation to hire would do so. It helps us all.”
Robertson, herself a former OJT participant, says the program should be expanded.
“Employers like it because it saves them money,” Robertson said. “And the employees like it, because they are employed by the company.”
Reach Mike Carrels at (918) 684-2922 or mcarrels
If interested in the On-The-Job Training Program, visit the Eastern Workforce Investment Board office at 721 South 32nd St.