OTTUMWA — Permission to bring in new students is welcome news at the Ottumwa Job Corps Center, but the end of the enrollment freeze does have strings attached.
"Since Jan. 28, it has been a bit of a rocky road for us," said Mark Douglas, the center director addressing the center's Community Advisory Group on Tuesday.
Since January, the center, designed for 300 students, has not been able to get any closer to that goal. Budget cuts and sequestration impacted centers and resulted in what was called the enrollment freeze.
"We had to lay off some staff as enrollment declined," Douglas said.
With about 100 full-time employees needed when operating at full capacity, the center had to give up five or six staff members over the past few months. Yet despite the U.S. Department of Labor lifting the freeze on Monday, getting back to full strength is still questionable.
"We're at about 180 students now," Douglas said. "There's going to be a buildup plan. We want to take students."
Yet according to new rules from the DOL, Ottumwa may not make it to 300. In fact, the Department of Labor cut has reduced enrollment for the entire Job Corps program by 20 percent. Douglas said Job Corps traditionally helped 60,000 young people each year. They'd gain job skills, learn societal expectations for behavior and stay off of public assistance. The reduction could mean 12,000 fewer students nationally.
In Ottumwa, "full" enrollment will now be considered 237 students, not 300. That would mean they won't need the full number of staff. Still, some Ottumwa Job Corps positions that were terminated are already under review for rehiring. And there may be a chance the center gets the number of students and staff it was designed for.