How Butte College is helping in the Camp Fire recovery

By Laura Urseny | lurseny@chicoer.com
Originally Published in Chico Enterprise-Record 

Wednesday, May 8

Butte College is playing a key behind-the-scenes role in the Camp Fire recovery.

More than 350 individuals have gone through training that Butte College established, with several hundred more on the waiting list. Of those, roughly 50 are already at work for debris-removal companies.

From providing training for those jobless and displaced by the Camp Fire, to instructing how cleanup and construction can happen safely, Butte College is a partner in the rebuilding of the Paradise Ridge.

Annie Rafferty, director of The Training Center at Butte College’s Chico campus, has been overseeing workforce educational needs related to the cleanup process.

Partners at the table

Butte College personnel joined in with other members of the emergency response team and the business recovery task force as the recovery began to be mapped out. Butte College participated in regular business forums that brought resources together for employers.

It became obvious, Rafferty said, that hazardous material training — Hazwoper 40 certification — could be a huge boon to recovery, with cleanup companies needing qualified workers.

Acting quickly, Butte College worked with Dawson and Sons Co. to provide the classroom training, and to this point, has put more than 350 people through the two-week course. Many of the trainees were left unemployed by the wildfire.

In addition to the hazardous waste training, workers also got CPR training, a fit test, a fitted mask and an Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10 certification, which would enable them to be in line for future jobs with CalOSHA.

The training also counts as transferable skills to industries such as manufacturing, warehousing and construction,” Rafferty said.

There are more than 100 on a wait list for training in April and May.

Training, instructors and equipment was funded by state and federal grants landed by the Alliance for Workforce Development in Chico.

Contractors

Butte College has been a regular partner with the Valley Contractors Exchange, and listened during early post-Camp Fire days to what businesses needed.

The exchange has also helped spread the word about the trainings, along with providing industry expertise as well. The exchange helped with a job fair in February that brought 14 contractors, plus primes to the area for cleanup hiring.

“These are good jobs,” Rafferty said. “They’re paying prevailing wage.”

Work for locals

Rafferty said that prime contractors are happy to tap into a local workforce because they are relieved of financial obligations for a nonlocal workforce. She noted that contractors are required to pay per diem to employees from outside the area, along with housing and feeding them.

“They don’t have to do that with local hirees,” she noted.

Representatives of Butte College have been up in the fire zone to contact contractors on what’s available to them and what services they might need.

According to Butte College, one of the prime contractors, Ceres Environmental, picked up about 10 Butte College trainees.

State, federal grants

Kristine Farrell in Chico, assistant director of the Alliance for Workforce Development, points to $16 million in state and federal grants at work right now.

The first grant, coming from the state almost immediately after the fire, was for $1 million to help survivors carry on, and figure out what had to be done next, like applying for unemployment or helping a business to find employees.

 

The following $15 million from the federal government is for helping displaced workers and businesses. It has gone for trainings, helping businesses reopen their doors and getting people to work. It’s also helping with a new fast-track construction program through Butte College.

Construction 101

Construction workers were desperately needed in Butte County long before the Camp Fire, with local contractors reporting having to bring in workers from outside the area.

Worsening the situation is that some construction workers from this area were drawn to the Bay Area by the Napa, Sonoma and Santa Rosa fires from 2017.

With the economy picking up and the need for housing growing in Chico, construction workers are even more valuable.

Butte College is initiating a pilot program for construction training to those who’ve taken the hazardous materials training.

Regarding construction courses, Rafferty said, “This would have happened even without the Camp Fire, but it was an unprecedented event. We can’t train them fast enough,” Rafferty said.

Loretta Weber of Valley Contractors Exchange noted that some of her membership and board will be involved weekly with the construction class pilot that will provide 102 training hours over five weeks.

Business aid

Butte College also has been a player in rebuilding businesses and the economy. Since November, small business counselor Sophie Konuwa has seen more than 50 businesses come through her door at the Small Business Development Center.

They have ranged from wanting to breath life back in their burned-out businesses, to learning the ins and outs of working with government contracts.

In demand has been aid helping contractors complete federal, state and local government certification processes. Businesses dealing with the government — as in debris cleanup — must be certified, and the SBDC has hosted certification workshops. Another such workshop is planned April 30.

On the positive side, Konuwa noted that five businesses have received SBA loans totaling more than $500,000, with more loans in the pipeline. Eight new jobs have been created, she noted.

Hard to count, but there are definitely businesses that would have closed up had they not been helped by Konuwa and her staff.

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