Idaho Forest Group: Using Workforce Training Funds to Help Employees Grow

After the recession forced Idaho Forest Group to curtail operations and layoff workers, the company received $378,400 in Idaho Workforce Development Training Funds to recover 126 of skilled workers lost during the downturn, at an average wage of $13.68 per hour. Idaho Forest Group

Idaho Forest Group employees received training in safety, quality monitoring, time management, work organization, teamwork, communications, problem solving and lean manufacturing and processes.

“Although some are industry-specific, all of these skills are valued by the majority of employers,” said Beti Becker, vice president of human resources for Idaho Forest Group. “Some employees are novices with little experience. These skills are a foundation to build on for their careers.”

Today, newly hired entry level employees at Idaho Forest Group advance from $12 to $14 within 90 days, and from there, continue to advance to an average wage of $18. Employees who pursue additional skills such as industrial mechanics and electricians can earn $25 to $32 per hour.

“Although the economy has recovered, state workforce training funds allowed for industry specific training in technical, electrical, mechanical and industrial equipment operation that would not have otherwise been feasible due to costs,” Becker said. “It also allowed us to train a broader segment of our workforce in the principles of lean manufacturing.”

 

Idaho Forest GroupIdaho Forest Group manufactures high quality dimension lumber and studs as well as by-product wood chips and sawdust. The company works closely with the Department of Labor offices in the communities the Forest Group operates – Post Falls, Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry, Lewiston and Grangeville.

“We were able to train or expand skill sets for many employees in areas otherwise not trained,” Becker said. “With increased skills, production increases which in turn creates more employment opportunities for others in the community.”

State officials are also adapting the fund to better meet industry needs – especially as the knowledge, skills and expertise of the baby boomers disappears with their retirements. Last year the Idaho Workforce Development Council approved a new Industry Sector Grant program and awarded $281,000 in workforce training funds to the newly-created Wood Products Manufacturing Center of Excellence at North Idaho College. The funds are being matched by business and will be focused on training logic controller technicians, or PLC electricians, saw filers and log scalers as part of the industry’s succession plan. The center at the college’s Workforce Training Center has been operating since Jan. 1.

Idaho employers finance the state’s Workforce Development Training Fund in its entirety through a 3 percent offset of the unemployment insurance tax. For a company to be eligible to receive training funds, it must pay a minimum wage of $12 per hour, provide employer-assisted medical benefits and sell its products or services primarily outside of the region where it is located.

The fund, established in 1996, is one of the state’s most powerful economic development tools available to support new and existing businesses as they seek to relocate or expand. Eligible companies are reimbursed for the cost of training new workers or existing employees at risk of layoff if their skills are not enhanced.

Learn more about how your business may be able to benefit from the many training resources, hiring incentives and other programs available through the Idaho Department of Labor.

— Tabitha Bower, tabitha.bower@labor.idaho.gov