Maybe you’re a jobseeker and are concerned you don’t have all the skills needed for a certain position. Or perhaps you’re a business owner who can’t find an employee who exactly meets all your job’s requirements. Both can take advantage of a little-known New York State program called On the Job Training (OJT).
This program will reimburse the employer up to 50% of the wages for a new employee while they are in the first six months of training for the job. Meet three employers who have made successful use of OJT.
OJT “absorbs some of the risk of it not working out” when training a new hire, says Wiley C. Harrison, president of Business of Your Business.
Harrison has two employees on staff who were funded by OJT, helping his White Plains firm handle outsourced accounting, payroll, and tax work for nonprofits, religious institutions, and small businesses.
Candidates for OJT can come from anywhere. The company finds and vets the person it wants to hire, then applies for funding from OJT. Harrison hires from various sources: Indeed.com, the Workforce Investment Board (WIB) database, local religious and community organizations, even word of mouth. “I want someone with less skills and a positive demeanor more than someone with skills and a bad attitude,” he says.
About seven years ago, he hired a woman as a bookkeeper, but she needed additional training. “I assigned her to a staff accountant who did all her training,” Harrison says. He submitted payroll documents covering the first six months, and “a few weeks later I got a check for half that cost,” he says. She worked out so well, he did the same for a new bookkeeper three years ago. Both are still with his company.
The first time around, he says, the red tape was onerous. “There was a lot of paperwork. For someone like me, I thought, why is this necessary?” He works with the WIB board of directors, and “that was one thing we thought might be hindering other businesses,” he says. Since then, the requirements have been eased for the initial application and renewal process for qualified businesses.
Harrison is currently looking for a receptionist. “When I find a resume, I will go through the [OJT] process to see if the person qualifies,” he says. “It’s been a very successful program for me.”
Richard St. Paul, a practicing attorney for about 17 years, has run his eponymous firm in White Plains for over a decade. A general practice firm of four attorneys plus support staff, it represents small businesses and individuals in matters of personal injury, commercial real estate, wills and trusts, civil litigation, intellectual property and more. He has hired much of his staff with the help of OJT.
“I hired one formerly incarcerated woman who was in a paralegal program while incarcerated. I also hired a law school graduate, another graduate who didn’t take the bar and wanted to get back into practice, and an accountant,” he says. All these hires were made in 2020 and 2021, during the pandemic. “The accountant was great timing, ensuring the business was in the best financial shape to apply for other grants offered for COVID [relief],” he says.
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The paralegal and attorney also helped him through a heavy litigation period. “We were able to use those individuals in response to several lawsuits so we could resolve them before the end of the year without going to trial. Without the staff on hand to do research, we likely would not have been as successful in settling these cases,” he says. St. Paul also does a lot of pro bono work, “and that becomes much harder when you don’t have enough people on staff,” he says.
St. Paul calls the OJT program a “win-win situation. If you’re in growth mode, this is definitely a program you want to take advantage of. If you are starting out and you are your business, this can help you work on your business by hiring a personal assistant or some other individuals to help.” He warns that the application work “is a process. It requires some admin time, there are documents to be filled out, but once you’re done with that, the benefits far outweigh the time it takes to participate.”
Donvil Collins, founder of VeeKast, a virtual event and video production company in White Plains, was involved in another employee development company several years ago when he learned about OJT. He trained a project manager around five years ago with OJT’s help. “He was hired as entry level but trained for project management, and now he’s one of the senior leaders in our company,” Collins says.
That hire was so successful that Collins has since trained several other new employees with OJT funding, in video production, video editing, and management positions. One started as a production assistant and has since moved up in authority. A second hire “took another job in New York City last year, doing what we trained her for,” Collins says, laughing. “But we’re happy for her.”
All of them had some level of experience, “but it wasn’t full experience, if you will. This was a way to get them fully acclimated into the space and ultimately grow their capacity and their skill set,” he says. “That makes them more valuable to themselves and the company.”
Collins is surprised that more people don’t know about OJT. “I always recommend it, and they are like, what? What are you talking about?” Like the others, he also notes the “process”: “a need for patience should be understood. It can be a lot. But at the end of the day, I always go through with it. As a business owner, I see it as free money, and you can’t beat free money.”
To learn more about OJT and apply for funding, go to www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/On-the-Job-Training-Program.