Alex Wignall was looking for a career change when he came across a job posting on Craigslist.
A company called "Energuy" was looking to hire workers to evaluate the energy efficiency of appliances like air conditioners in homes.
What Wignall didn't know was that Energuy, a Canadian company with offices in the United States, had specifically sought out new hires in Sonoma County to take advantage of federal funds for training through Sonoma County JobLink.
Through that program, JobLink pays half of the salary of new hires that companies agree to train on-the-job.
"This is the first job that really has career potential for me, so I'm excited," said Wignall, 25, of Santa Rosa. "And a lot of people aren't working right now. It's hard to find work, so I'm grateful that JobLink was able to help me out."
JobLink began the program, known as "subsidized employment," in March. So far, 20 new hires have been placed in companies throughout the county, said Steve Czegus, manager of Sonoma County JobLink, which provides job placement and guidance services.
"It's taken off. It's done really well," Czegus said. "The type of companies that we have are a fairly wide range ... We have insurance wholesalers, textile processors, drivers, administrative assistants, shop supervisors, interior design and sales, and laborers. There's a good range of jobs and industries that people are going into."
The program is funded through the Workforce Investment Act, which makes federal money from the U.S. Department of Labor available to local groups for employment assistance. JobLink received about $624,000 to spend on training during the current fiscal year, which ends in June. It plans to spend about half of those funds on the subsidized employment program, Czegus said.
JobLink pays half of the new employee's salary for up to six months. Wages for those placed so far range from about $12 to $24 an hour, Czegus said.
"More of our job seekers were interested in getting actual employment than pursuing vocational training programs," Czegus said.
Goodwill Industries, which works with JobLink, acts as a liaison to help connect employers with employees.
"They have a lot of connections with local employers and local nonprofits, and because they've built up those relationships we contract with them so we can benefit from all the connections they already have made," Czegus said.
To qualify, potential employees must be eligible for or have already exhausted unemployment benefits, or they must have such a low income that they meet federal poverty guidelines. Employers provide a training plan in their application to participate.
"We want to make sure they're carrying workers compensation insurance, that it's a regular position, that they have a real job there at the end of six months when the subsidy ends," said Laurie Petta, vice president of workforce development at Goodwill Industries. "We want to make sure that there's training involved, that they have skills at the end."
Cameron Hiscock, president of Energuy, is expanding his company in parts of California that have programs similar to JobLink's subsidized employment, he said. The company's U.S. headquarters is in Sacramento, where similar funding is available.
"It's really helped us as a company, for sure," Hiscock said. "It's allowed us to be more aggressive in our growth in our hiring. ... We've actually had meetings where we've said we'll only move forward if we can get a subsidized employee, otherwise we'll have to wait until we're financially ready."
Candidates for Sonoma County Sheriff
Name: Mark Essick
Career: Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office for 23 years; had visible roles representing the Sheriff’s Office in the past; was a member of the community task force created in the wake of the 2013 Andy Lopez shooting
Name: Ernesto Olivares
Career: Santa Rosa Police Department for 30 years; Santa Rosa City Councilman has garnered endorsements from Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and fellow Santa Rosa councilmen John Sawyer and Tom Schwedhelm
Name: John Mutz
Career: Los Angeles Police Department for 25 years; after retiring in 1999, Mutz developed a mediation program for racial profiling cases for the Los Angeles Police Department