Unemployment Strikeforce

JOHNSTOWN – The New York state Department of Labor has assigned its Unemployment Strikeforce to take aim at Montgomery County’s longterm unemployment problem.

New York state Department of Labor official Paul Nelson said Montgomery County has been chosen to be a part of a 10-county program aimed at reducing unemployment, with a specific focus on long-term unemployed people, those who’ve been unemployed longer than 27 weeks. The other counties in the program include: the Bronx, Brooklyn, Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Oswego and Steuben counties.

Nelson said the strikeforce initiative originally began with only four counties, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Jefferson and Lewis, but was expanded after the program successfully helped 6,000 long-term unemployed find jobs out of 10,000 targeted in those counties, including 1,700 in the rural counties of Lewis and Jefferson.

“People who are on unemployment have to meet us, people who are long-term unemployed do not. So we reached out to them,” he said.

Nelson said the Unemployment Strikeforce acts aggressively to reach out to the long-term unemployed through email and written letters.

Being a Strikeforce county gives Montgomery County access to $5.4 million in state funds for on-the-job training for companies who hire previously unemployed workers.

Nelson said the program makes up to $100,000 available to either for-profit or nonprofit businesses that have at least two employees, have been in operation in New York state for 120 days and are in good-standing with all regulatory agencies. The program offers $7,900 in wage reimbursement per employee hired.

Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort, who was recently named by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the State Workforce Investment Board, said the funding made available by the Unemployment Strikeforce could help curb high unemployment numbers in his county.

“We’re trying to raise awareness that these funds are out there and connect the dots for local employers about how they can take advantage of this money,” Ossenfort said. “Unlike a lot of other government programs, this is one where they are looking toward speed as far as turning around the dollars for local companies. We’re talking 10 to 15 days turnaround time. For state government that’s very good.”

According to a March Department of Labor report, Montgomery County had between a 7 and 7.9 percent unemployment rate, tied with Fulton County. Hamilton County actually had the highest unemployment rate in the state at more than 8 percent in March, but the counties chosen for the Strikeforce were picked in January.

Nelson said Montgomery County has approximately 1,800 long-term unemployed, which is relatively small compared to more urban areas like the Bronx and Brooklyn which have 22,000 and 50,000 respectively.

“We want 100 percent of these people returned to the workforce. We want everyone who wants a job to have one,” Nelson said.

Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie Counties Workforce Solutions Executive Director Gail Breen said the job training money is exactly what Montgomery County needs

“We have a large group of people who’ve been unemployed for quite a while and they have skills, but they may not be the skills that are needed in today’s workforce,” Breen said.

Fulton Montgomery Regional Chamber of Commerce President Mark Kilmer said he believes the state’s aggressive approach is the right strategy for reducing unemployment locally.

“It’s a great opportunity to boost up employment in our local companies because one of the biggest factors preventing people from hiring is the training costs,” he said.

Kevin Young, the workforce development manager for the eastern region of SolarCity, a company that plans to begin manufacturing solar panels near Buffalo in 2016, said his company, which employs people in Amsterdam, will definitely be applying for funding through the job training program because it believes in hiring unemployed workers to “feed the talent pool” in areas it does business in.

“Most people will come in with little to no background with regard to solar panels, technology, the installation of it. We’re going to teach them about the theory of it, about the installation and about customer service. It’s completely comprehensive,” Young said of his company’s training program.

More information about the Unemployment Strikeforce and Department of Labor programs for the unemployed is available at labor.ny.gov.