Newton Kansan

The challenge was made clear two years ago — find engineers.

"We asked 'what are the hardest jobs to fill,'" said Tucky Allen of Kansas WorkForce One. "The answer was engineers."

Allen works in 62 counties in Kansas, helping recruit and retain workers. His challenge was to find a way to start filling engineering positions.

At about that same time, Kansas Works was given a grant by the U.S. Department of Labor. The grant, part of the H-1B program, was designed to support on-the-job training to support the hiring of engineers.

Kansas Workforce One projected placing 10 engineers in Allen's 62 counties during the life of the five year grant. In two years 36 engineers have been hired — nine of those in Harvey County.

"I have not had any not make it through the training, or leave after their training program is complete," Allen said. "This is a good fit."

So good, apparently, that the area exhausted the five-year grant fund in just two years and asked for an additional $250,000. Allen expects to exhaust that funding within two years.

Funds for the grants come from H-1B, but they do not come from the federal government nor does it require engineers to be foreign workers like traditional H-1B visa program workers. The funds for this grant program are generated through the fees paid by companies hiring foreign workers through H1-B.

To qualify for the grant program, an engineer must have at least a bachelor's degree in an engineering field and be unemployed. The engineer is under the grant for one year — the grant funds pay the company which hires the engineer for the training of the engineer.

"They will learn software the company uses, company processes, design technologies and will be mentored within the company," Allen said. "They get hands on, specific training."

Employers can receive up to $25,000 per engineer hired, based upon the number of hours the engineer spends in training.

Allen said the jobs engineers are hired for command a salary of $50,000 or more per year.

"This has allowed companies to hire more engineers," Allen said. "And some of the companies using this are not our largest employers."

Allen estimates there are about seven spots remaining in the program before it runs out of funding.