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In Northeastern Pennsylvania, an area hard hit by recession, good jobs and careers can be hard to come by.

“Lots of people have been out of work for months.  It’s a manufacturing area and there were a lot of layoffs in the past year,” notes Liz Brobst, program coordinator for Johnson College, a private two-year technical college founded in 1912.  The unemployment rate in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area rose to 9.7 percent in December, and closed out 2009 near a 17-year high.

But opportunities for new careers are emerging through the Department of Energy’s weatherization assistance network, which is in need of skilled workers to handle projects funded by the Recovery Act.

Of the twelve students, eight were new to weatherization and four were already working in the industry but needed certifications for their work with local service providers, according to Brobst.In early March, 12 students will graduate from one of the first weatherization training courses offered by Johnson College.

“Graduates can go to a WAP-funded provider or go into private industry,” Brobst says. The program’s benefit “is that the students need no additional training once they finish the program and pass the tests,” she says.

Johnson College is proactively working with local service providers Scranton-Lackawanna Human Development Agency (SLDHA), Luzerne County’s Commission on Economic Opportunity, Monroe County Redevelopment Authority, Wayne County Redevelopment Authority and Trehab on the program designed to provide training for new hires and augment training for current staff.

SLDHA hired 7 new employees in November as part of the ramp up for the Recovery Act, according to Tony Harding, the agency’s weatherization program manager. “We got our first funds on November 4 and did our first [Recovery Act funded] job on November 9.” Harding says the agency plans to hire four of the students.

SLDHA currently has 21 employees in the warehouse where jobs range from installers, crew chiefs, auditors, furnace and other equipment specialists. Operations supervisor Joe Haddock runs the warehouse and has been with the SLHDA Weatherization Program since its federal inception in 1976.  SLHDA are at 200 percent of their budgeted units, according to Harding.

Johnson College received a $132,000 training grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry and the Department of Community and Economic Development.