Labor Dept. Grant Welds Old Skills Into New Opportunities

Apr 25, 2017

Hawkeye Community College student Diana Staver shows off her skills as she prepares to graduate in May. Laid off from Deere, Staver trained for a new job through a U.S. Labor Department grant.
Credit Pat Blank/IPR

Forty-three year old Diana Staver worked on the assembly line at a John Deere factory in Waterloo. When she got her pink slip in 2015, she wasted no time in figuring out what her next move would be.

“I got the layoff notice and when I got the layoff notice, I just dreaded going out and finding another job so I came to Hawkeye [Community College] that same afternoon I was here by 8:15 in the morning I wanna say and they weren’t quite open”, Staver explained.

Hawkeye Community College is one of three locations designated to administer reemployment and training services to 650 laid off workers from Deere facilities in Waterloo and Ankeny.

It’s been nearly two years since the U.S. Department of Labor awarded a little more than three million dollars to Iowa Workforce Development to provide assistance to Deere and Company workers laid off because of slumping farm equipment sales. 

Workforce Development Program  Co-ordinator Kyle Clabby-Kane explains the grant is being distributed in increments of about a half million dollars every six months. He says with that kind of money the feds are watching to see that the funds are well spent.

“So far we’ve served about 250 employees from John Deere. Department of Labor is very happy with our success so far we do have another year left so they are excited to see where we end with the grant in March of 2018," Clabby-Kane said.

Clabby-Kane says because losing a job, especially one you’ve held for a number of years, can be unsettling, one of the goals of the program is to provide stability.

“We want to make sure they’re with that same employer for multiple quarters after they go back to work," he said. "We don’t want to see some one job-hopping. We want to make sure they’re stable. We look at wages, wages before they were laid off and then when they are re-employed to make sure they’re making the same or more salary wise."

Although success for 250 people is commendable, it means there are still at least 400 more who have not been helped. That number troubles United Workers Local 838 Vice president Mike Oberhauser.  He does not disguise his frustration with those who have not reached out for assistance.

“Everybody has a little time when they have a bump in the road in their life. I’ve been through it, had to swallow my pride it wasn’t fun but I did it. Going through it myself don’t look at it as a hand out, it’s just a return on the investment you’ve been making in your life so far,” he said emphatically.

Program Co-coordinator Clabby -Kane says he thinks the delay in applications could be due in part to employees who thought they would get called back. That has happened, but only for a handful of positions.

“It may not have been the right time over the past two years to come in and see us in the Iowa Works office in Des Moines if you’re from the Ankeny plant or the Iowa Works office in Waterloo or at Hawkeye. We can still help, that’s the great part about this grant.” said Clabby-Kane.

For those who have embraced the assistance, including Diana Staver, a new chapter of their life has begun to unfold.

“My dream job would be welding, but I also like the electrical side of the program we’re on to, so a skilled trade, I’ve actually thought about getting my journeymen’s license because I like the electrical side of it too.” Staver said with a wink.

Staver says no one likes the thought of losing their job, but she says her layoff notice was a blessing.

“I’m glad that I took this opportunity to advance my education, to get a better job. I don’t know where I’m going to go but it’s going to be paying a lot more than what I was  getting before,” she said.

Staver graduates with an Associate of Arts degree in two weeks and has at least three job offers.