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Hickenlooper signs bill in Colorado Springs that reauthorizes job program for veterans

Author: Rich Laden, The Gazette - May 12, 2018 - Updated: May 21, 2018

(Photo credit:Pikes Peak Workforce Center Facebook page)

COLORADO SPRINGS — A pilot program launched by Colorado lawmakers two years ago to help veterans move into the civilian workforce is getting new life.

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Friday signed a bill that extends the Veterans’ Service-to-Career Program, whose goal is to provide job services to veterans and their families as they transition from the military. The bill signing took place at the Pikes Peak Workforce Center in Colorado Springs.

“When we look at the challenges and the risks that our military, both men and women, that they accept, we recognize that it just heightens the obligation that when they are finished (with) their service, they need to have a job,” Hickenlooper said before several dozen legislators, local elected officials and Workforce Center employees. “And they deserve to get a priority in their training and they deserve to get a priority in their hiring.”

A bill that created the pilot program in 2016 authorized nonprofit agencies to partner with workforce centers chosen by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Grants were awarded to selected applicants who then used the funds to provide eligible veterans with job training, internships, work placement, career and professional counseling and other services.

The program was scheduled to expire Jan. 1.

The bill signed by Hickenlooper extends the program for five years and appropriates nearly $507,000 in funding for the 2018-19 fiscal year. It also requires the Department of Labor and Employment to develop standards to measure program outcomes and effectiveness before starting the bid process for grants.

The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Terri Carver, Democratic Rep. Pete Lee and Republican Sen. Kent Lambert, both of Colorado Springs, and Democratic Sen. Nancy Todd of Denver. “It expands the pool of skilled labor, which we very much need in our local economy,” Carver said.

The Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center in Colorado Springs partnered with the Workforce Center and, with a grant during the program’s initial two years, assisted nearly 390 veterans, spouses and family members, said Traci Marques, the agency’s executive director and CEO.

“It’s a public-private partnership,” Marques said of the effort between the Workforce Center and Mount Carmel. “We cannot do this alone. Why not be able to share the opportunities that we have for our community, especially our veterans and spouses?”

Of the nearly 390 people who benefited, 41 were placed in internships with a variety of employers – including information technology, insurance, health care, transportation, financial services and even breweries. Another 132 received specialized job services and job coaching, Marques said.

Bob McLaughlin, Mount Carmel’s chief operating officer, said this year’s bill to extend the program will continue to provide sorely needed job support for veterans and their families.

“Just the fact that the state voted to not sunset it for five years shows a vote of confidence in the public-private partnership,” he said.

Even though the program was extended for five years, and funding appropriated for 2017-18, additional appropriations will be needed in subsequent years. McLaughlin said supporters will continue to push for the funding.

“The goal is, where there’s a need in the resources, we want to provide it,” he said. “We believe the need is greater than what we can provide and we will just go back to get more resources.”

Contact the reporter: 636-0228

Twitter: @richladen

Rich Laden, The Gazette