Employers in Walworth County are getting an offer that might sound too good to be true: A federally funded agency will pay them to hire more workers.
Community Action Inc. in Beloit is expanding into Walworth County with a program that encourages employers to create jobs for under-privileged workers such as ex-criminal offenders.
For each worker hired, the agency will contribute $7.25 an hour toward the worker’s salary for the first six months.
Erick Williams, a program manager at Community Action, said the salary subsidy is designed not only to promote hiring, but also to give a helping hand to job seekers who face extra obstacles in the job market.
“We’re investing in our participants,” he said.
Organizers are planning a public meeting at 2 p.m. July 11 at the Walworth County Job Center in Elkhorn for employers who are interested in learning how the program could address their workforce needs.
Becky Wolf, CEO of Continental Plastic Corp. in Delavan, said she is intrigued by the new program, which is being offered in Walworth County for the first time ever.
“It’s very exciting,” she said.
Wolf said her manufacturing company has job openings, but recruiters have struggled to find good candidates who have basic workplace skills.
“Some folks really just don’t understand what it means to have a job,” she said.
Under the Transitional Jobs Program, the Community Action Agency trains and prepares job seekers who either have criminal records, have aged out of the foster care system, or have been ordered to pay child support.
Those are the specific populations being targeted because their backgrounds make it particularly difficult to secure employment.
Applicants must be at least 18 years old and must live in Walworth County.
In the first two years that the program was offered in the Beloit area, a total of 145 applicants were enrolled, and 77 of them maintained employment beyond the six-month enrollment period.
Some employers say that getting qualified workers who are committed to doing well in the workforce is more valuable than the $7.25-an-hour subsidy that comes with the program.
Shannon Latham, human resources director at Stainless Tank & Equipment in Beloit, said her company found that its new employees came to work with a good attitude and a strong work ethic.
The Beloit manufacturer has utilized the Community Action program to fill several jobs at its plant.
So impressed are company officials that they turned down the $7.25-an-hour subsidy and agreed to pay their new workers from the company’s own payroll.
Latham said she would encourage Walworth County employers to consider the Transitional Jobs Program as a way to fill gaps in their workforce while also helping members of the community escape from unemployment.
“Any community that is willing to give the program a try is going to see good results,” she said. “But it’s got to be out-of-the-box recruitment thinking.”
Community Action Agency is a nonprofit organization that uses federal and state funding to help residents in Walworth and Rock County with jobs, housing, parenting and other needs.
The agency does not receive a lump sum of money for the Transitional Jobs Program, but is reimbursed with federal dollars for each applicant who succeeds in finding work.
That means agency staff works hard to get applicants ready so they can attract job offers.
Unlike employment agencies, Williams said, his staff does not just match clients up with jobs and then drop them off at the doorstep. Instead, clients get orientation and training on life skills needed to succeed in the workplace.
“We have a lot of skin in the game,” said Williams, who is adult services program manager for Community Action.
Officials are working to introduce the jobs program in Walworth County this summer, both by enrolling local applicants and finding employers willing to try it.
Beth Tallon, the agency’s public relations director, has been contacting employers and inviting them to the July 11 meeting to discuss the program.
Tallon said Community Action’s ability to offer the $7.25-an-hour salary subsidy makes the program appealing both as a financial incentive and as an indicator that the agency is offering talented job candidates.
The program, she said, is a perfect solution in a job market where both job seekers and job creators are struggling to find exactly what they want.
“You hear a lot about a skills gap,” she said. “This program helps bridge the gap.”