"The Workforce Investment Act is a federal program that will assist laid off workers as well as long-term unemployed, low income, unskilled workers in retraining or new training to help them get back in the workforce," said Lori McAllister, WIA Career Coordinator at Chattahoochee Technical College. "People are eligible as what we call a dislocated worker ... as well as someone who falls under the adult category, which is the low income category."
McAllister represents CTC and the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission, the entity that manages the funding and contracts associated with WIA in the region.
"My role is also to be the counselor and career coordinator to put people into the program who meet the eligibility. There's eligibility and there's also suitability," McAllister said. "We need to do things like assessment evaluations on individuals, help them with understanding what their background is and what skills they currently have and what kind of skills they need to upgrade in order to get back into the workforce."
She said those interested in going back to school through WIA should first contact the U.S. Department of Labor.
"The money is distributed to [Georgia] through the [U.S. Department of Labor] and there are 20 Workforce Investment Act boards in the state of Georgia and each board receives a pool of money," McAllister said. "Each region will be able to refer clients to [contracted] training providers within their region.
"... The idea is that WIA will pay for the training and the books and the supplies of what it costs for a student to complete the training and receive a credential that will lead to employment."
The program has available transportation reimbursement and childcare options available with tuition funding.
"When I was a part of the program, I would tell anybody to take advantage of it because the grades and everything you make while in the program, like everything else, it will follow you," said Tracey Esmann, who serves as WIA Coordinator Assistant at Georgia Highlands College and is a former WIA student herself. "If you want to succeed, start on a positive note and work hard at it."
Both she and McAllister said the program is successful because it keeps students accountable throughout the educational process.
"What I do is make sure we get competent students in the program and nurture those students once we get them in the program because we get a lot of non-traditional type students," Esmann said. "Because they have been in the workforce for a long, long time and trying to train that mindset to change from a mill environment can be kind of tough sometimes."
McAllister said WIA students must go to school full time and meet with her for advisement and counseling over progress in their academic career and that students have approved courses of study for careers based upon demand in their region.
"Something that might be approved [in northwest Georgia] might not be approved in south Georgia because the jobs just aren't the same in that region," McAllister said, "and once someone completes their training, WIA doesn't really end there. I need to receive information on performance that is like, 'where did you get a job,' 'what is your new pay rate and how does that compare to what you lost,' and the state will look at those numbers."
Esmann said although students in the program come from "all walks of life," there are certain courses of study that are more popular, with some students transferring on to obtain bachelors' degrees.
"We have several [WIA students] that are in the [Floyd campus] nursing program and have completed the nursing program and are hired very, very quickly after graduation," Esmann said.
Kenneth Turner, 44, of Bartow, got laid off after working in the warehousing industry. He has returned to CTC to pursue a career in automotive technology.
"WIA has assisted me with helping with my books and transportation and encouraged me to get my job that I recently got about three months ago," Turner said. "... There were times when things got hard and [McAllister] helped me with my resume. Three days after turning it in, I got a call."
Turner is employed by Travel America as a technician and plans to graduate in December.
"If you don't ask, you won't get any help," Turner said. "You'd be surprised the direction people will point you in."
Bartow County's Department of Labor Career Center can be reached at 770-387-3760.