Program helps workers move on

Published 5:11 am Monday, May 13, 2013

Weeks have passed since Austin Packaging Company laid off about 76 workers, and Bill Hahn said some of the former employees are starting to find jobs elsewhere.

“You always have a total gamut of where people are at,” said Hahn, Workforce Development’s dislocated worker program coordinator. “You have some people who are very proactive and others who take a little time off.”

Workforce Development is continuing efforts that began in late March following meetings with the food manufacturing company and Riverland Community College staff to help the displaced workers. The organization offers skill assessments and training along with resume help for workers laid off through no fault of their own.

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Recently, Workforce Development submitted a grant application to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development for $200,000 in funding. The state accepts grant requests when a company displaces enough workers at one time.

“Anytime there’s a layoff of over 50 people, we can submit a grant to DEED,” Hahn said Friday. “We should hear about that grant next week.”

He added he expects to have estimates of how many former APC workers have gotten involved in Workforce Development programs following a meeting on Wednesday.

Taken as a whole, the manufacturing industry in Minnesota has an optimistic outlook for the year. According to a DEED report published at the end of last year, 85 percent of manufacturers surveyed expected 2013 production and employment levels to increase or stay the same from 2012.

The manufacturing industry represents nearly 13 percent of all jobs in the state, or more than 340,000 positions, according to DEED. The latest available figures show about 3,300 people in Mower County are employed in food manufacturing jobs.

“The best thing about what’s going on right now with the economy is there are some jobs,” Hahn said.

So far, Workforce Development has not assisted anyone in moving out of the area, Hahn said, though the company would do so if it were a necessary step in finding one of the laid-off workers a job.

“That’s something we definitely don’t want to do if we can help it,” he said. “It doesn’t happen very often.”

One of the most critical skills for displaced workers to have is computer and Internet literacy. Many employers rely on Internet postings to find new hires, so Workforce Development provides computers for workers to apply for jobs.

“We want to make sure those folks are up to speed,” Hahn said in April. “Mainly, we’re going to give them the tools to help them get their next job.”

The Workforce Development program, which is voluntary, is still accepting displaced workers. Hahn encourages any laid-off APC workers who have not contacted the company to get in touch. Visit for more information.

“We’ll keep having orientation sessions until we don’t need to have them anymore,” Hahn said in April.