Arizonans who are out of work may soon be able to get on-the-job training without losing their unemployment benefits.

On an 18-9 vote Monday, the Senate approved a program that continues the weekly checks without the recipients required to be out actively seeking a job. More to the point, they would be working at an Arizona business where they would be learning new skills.

They would not be paid, other than their weekly unemployment checks. But Sen. Paula Aboud, D-Tucson, the sponsor of SB 1388, said she believes both the person who is out of work and the company will benefit.

The measure now goes to the House.

“This is a jobs bill, a return-to-work bill,” Aboud said.

“When I talk to small business employers in Tucson, they were saying how expensive it is for them to train people for the jobs they have that are open,” she explained. Aboud said this measure cuts that cost by giving the company a free worker.

She said there are limits. A company gets that person for only six weeks, and only for 32 hours a week.

More significant, Aboud said there actually has to be some real training going on.

Companies can’t just get free labor for six weeks. Aboud said that also precludes what some employers do — sometimes illegally — in bringing on new college graduates as unpaid interns not to teach them but instead have them to fetch coffee or do other busy work.

Aboud also said the law precludes companies from firing someone else to replace that person with an unemployed worker who costs the employer nothing.

She said a similar program in New Hampshire has proven successful, with 22 percent of the unemployed workers going through job training actually being hired on by the company before their training period ended.

Farrell Quinlan, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said he can see a big advantage for employers in being able to have a worker for nearly 200 hours before having to put that person on the payroll.

“That is a huge boost to getting somebody trained and ready to work,” he said. And Quinlan said he agreed with Aboud that it could open a door for the unemployed worker.

“I would imagine that a good prospective employee that you’ve trained and had in your business for up to six weeks is probably somebody you’re going to want to hire since effectively all the training costs have been taken up through the program,” he said.

If nothing else, Quinlan said that what the legislation would consider a training period could actually be seen as a trial employment period.

“It is quite an expenditure of funds to try to find the right employee,” he explained. “Sometimes it doesn’t always work out.”

Quinlan said that many companies have a normal attrition of new workers as both the employer and the employee figure out whether they are a good fit for each other.

“You get to try out the employee, train them, before you actually have to make a commitment to hire them on,” he said.

Aboud said some of the biggest need is in the aerospace industry. She said that the needs of many of the companies go far beyond the college-educated engineers.

She said one firm that has told her of its need for a program like this is Sargent Aerospace. It has job openings for people with experience in mechanical assembly of parts as well as machinists.

There is no cost to the state in paying unemployment benefits to those undergoing training, as that fund is financed by a tax on employers based on how often they lay off workers. But the legislation does require the state to pay the workers’ compensation insurance for the employees in training to provide coverage if they are injured on the job.

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