Tri-City area colleges help laid off Hanford workers

By Jacques Von Lunen, Tri-City HeraldOctober 16, 2011 

Tri-City college campuses are offering help for workers who were laid off at Hanford.

Columbia Basin College in Pasco ramped up its worker retraining program with special orientations for former Hanford employees. And Washington State University Tri-Cities is creating a new program to turn workers from the site into teachers.

The changes come in response to announcements that about 2,000 Hanford workers have lost their jobs this spring and another 1,000 could be cut next year.

CBC, in collaboration with the state's Workforce Development System, offers help to laid-off workers who want to learn new skills, said Deborah Brown, CBC's director of worker retraining programs.

Workers can sign up with the CBC program once they receive state unemployment benefits, Brown said. They then are eligible to receive financial help toward any vocational program offered at the college.

The program pays the tuition and textbook costs for the worker's first quarter at CBC, Brown said.

"It helps them get started while they apply for financial aid and the dislocated worker program," she said.

Some workers, depending on if there is demand elsewhere for the job they held, may be able to receive unemployment benefits while going to school, without having to look for work, Brown said.

CBC held several orientations specifically for Hanford workers and has more scheduled.

A lot of workers have inquired about the college's programs, Brown said. But only one has actually signed up for the program -- and for classes -- so far, she said.

That probably is because many still are looking for work here or are trying to decide whether to move away, before they start learning new skills and switch careers, Brown said.

And workers who received their lay-off notices since late September are too late to sign up for CBC's fall quarter, which means many may consider other options first and come back to seek the college's services later this year.

The college is prepared for a potential flood of workers to come knocking in a few months, Brown said.

Some might not apply to CBC's program because they're overqualified to be retrained by a community college.

"What can we offer workers with four-year or master's degrees?" Brown said.

That is where WSU Tri-Cities comes in.

"We've been talking with (the Department of Energy) about trying to develop a program targeted just toward workers at Hanford who retired or were laid off," said WSU Chancellor Vicky Carwein.

The university partnered with the Educational Service District 123, which works with every school district in the Mid-Columbia, about developing an alternative certification program for teachers.

The program seeks to turn engineers and scientists from Hanford into science and math teachers for local schools.

They would take courses at WSU and work alongside certified teachers in classrooms, Carwein said. They could get certified within about 15 months after entering the program.

The program is being reviewed by state school officials and is expected to be approved by the end of the year, Carwein said. Courses could start next summer.

Those teachers are needed in the Tri-Cities.

When the Kennewick School District has an opening for a high school math or science teacher, it gets about two or three applications, said Superintendent Dave Bond. The district gets about 100 applications for each elementary school teacher opening, he said.

"We would certainly be interested in people who've worked out at Hanford and have hands-on experience," Bond said.

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