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Program celebrates 2,000 hires

The Step Up program began last spring to promote job creation by giving companies incentives to hire unemployed people. Since that time, 2,000 residents have found employment using the program.

William Villano, president and chief executive operator of Workforce Alliance, said the program got started as a part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “first five” job creation initiative and the state legislature supported the program. Villano said there was initially $10 million in funding for manufacturing jobs and another $10 million for non-manufacturing jobs.

Step Up provides hiring incentive funding for companies to train new employees based on a six-month wage subsidy. The companies that participate must employ fewer than 100 people and conduct on-the-job training.

“The program was very successful and popular,” Villano said. “We are pleased that 82 percent of the employees placed are still employed by the company or another job.”

All original funding has been allocated, but an additional $10 million was added to the program specifically for hiring veterans, Villano said. The program is scheduled to end in June 2014, but because of the success the program has had Villano hopes to see the funding extended.

Initially, program funding went through the department of labor, and for the non-veteran hires candidates had to meet certain requirements, such as where they lived and being unemployed.

Villano said the department of labor has been working to get the word out about the program by contacting local chambers of commerce, hosting breakfasts, and by simple word of mouth.

When the veterans funding was added, officials believed thousands of vets would be returning to the state and the legislature wanted to ensure they would have access to jobs, Villano said. But that part of the program has been moving slower than anticipated and organizers are looking for veterans who want to participate.

Robert Errato, vice president of Worldcom International, said the company found out about the program when a resume was submitted and the applicant mentioned she was “Step Up approved.” Errato researched the program.

“I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about it,” Errato said.

Since the company started participating in the summer, Errato said they hired four or five people, two of the hires being veterans. Errato said the program worked well with Worldcom International because not many people have the specific training required for jobs there.

“It helped us go from planning to hire one or two people to hiring five or six,” Errato said. “The goal is to keep everyone.”

Errato said the company plans to keep using Step Up to find new hires, focusing on hiring veterans due to the funding still available for those hires.

“It’s an amazing program. It is much more streamlined than you would expect,” Errato said.

Tony Gianakos, commander of the American Legion Post 45 in Meriden, said he had never heard of it but that it sounds like a great program. Gianakos said he would promote the program at the legion for the 270 members if a flyer or information sheet was distributed. Gianakos said three veterans recently returned from overseas, two from Iraq and one from Afghanistan, and all three planned on going back to school.

Veterans receiving funding to get their degrees may be one of the reasons the Step Up program has been slower than expected, Villano said.

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