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Helping Vt. workers learn skills for better jobs - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Helping Vt. workers learn skills for better jobs

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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. -

"We've kind of enjoyed a very busy season in the construction world," said Al Senecal of Omega Electric Construction.

South Burlington family business owners Al and Cheryl Senecal are surviving and thriving in the aftermath of the recession. They employ over 100 workers at Omega Electric Construction Company. And they're hiring.

"It's difficult to find licensed electricians right now, so we're trying to grow them ourselves so to speak," Al Senecal said.

Omega hires from the Department of Labor's Apprenticeship Program, eventually providing a paycheck to the once unemployed. On Wednesday, they joined the Shumlin administration in touting the benefits of such a partnership.

"There's people in the unemployed pool right now that aren't the same as the traditional pool of unemployed," Vt. Commerce Secretary Lawrence Miller said.

Vermont has the third lowest unemployment rate in the nation at 4.4 percent. With current job openings in manufacturing, health care and retail services, as well as anticipated growth in construction, building trades and hospitality as the weather warms. But with dropping joblessness comes a different challenge.

"Our unemployment rate is getting low enough so that it will be a challenge if we don't bring some of our Vermont kids back to Vermont to make a great living here," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont.

"While we have not regained all the jobs we lost since December 2007 when the Great Recession began, we are getting very close," said Mathew Barewicz of the Vermont Department of Labor.

Vermont is about a half a percentage point away from its prerecession numbers. The national economy, by comparison, is still 2 percentage points behind. The governor says a labor shortage is a much better problem to have. But he's not declaring victory just yet. He says sequestration could throw a wrench in the state's success, adding uncertainty to the economic outlook.

"Washington, D.C., get your act together. Do not take our economic opportunities and our job opportunities away from us. Pass a decent budget. Get rid of this crazy sequester and let's get back to work," Shumlin said.

The governor maintains that Vermont's unemployment rate has improved because there are jobs available, not because discouraged workers have stopped looking. And he also says job growth is not limited to Chittenden County and pointed to Bill Stenger's big development plans that are projected to bring 10,000 new jobs to the Northeast Kingdom.

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