For New Haven residents interested in acquiring vital work skills and possibly getting a job at one of the world’s most popular home furnishing stores, this week marks the start of a free IKEA-sponsored training program.

In a joint effort between the city and IKEA, which will be opening its doors this summer, Gateway Community College is offering job training workshops at 11 different locations across the city between Feb. 16 and March 20. IKEA contributed $100,000 to Gateway so that all workshops are free of charge.

IKEA spokesman Joseph Roth said the store decided to support a training program because city officials conveyed a strong interest in creating jobs for residents during initial negotiations. He said IKEA generally aims to build strong relationships with the communities it enters.

“It didn’t take long for us to realize that jobs were an important factor in the city of New Haven, and we channeled our efforts accordingly,” Roth said.

Roth said IKEA will be hiring between 300 and 400 new employees for the New Haven store. While those receiving the free training will still need to go through the normal application and hiring process, he said he hopes members of the community will be a “good match” for working with IKEA.

“We hope they know what positions are available, what skills are required — and hopefully they will acquire the skills necessary to get the jobs,” Roth said.

The training consists of four two-hour long workshops focusing on retail sector skills, including customer service, business communications, computer skills and computer basics for online job applications.

Gateway Community College Director of Public Relations Evelyn Gard said community response to the free workshops has been enormous. Although only 12 people formally registered to attend the first session, about 40 showed up.

“It’s only the first week and the response has been incredible — I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like next week,” Gard said.

Gard said while program participants will not be guaranteed employment at IKEA — especially since more than 300 will likely be trained — they should have an advantage over those who have not had skills training, and will also be more likely to gain employment elsewhere in the future.

“It prepares people whether they go to IKEA or not. People are seriously interested and looking for work,” Gard said, adding that participants come from a wide variety of educational and employment backgrounds.

New Haven economic development officer Craig Russell said the city was very eager to generate more jobs for local residents and that IKEA was “very forthcoming” in sponsoring such a training program. With workshops being offered at 11 different locations, he said he hoped everyone who wanted to would be able to attend.

Russell said retail training in general is important for New Haven residents looking for work because there is currently a high demand in the state’s retail industry. Connecticut Department of Labor statistics indicate that about 2,500 retail jobs are created every year in Connecticut.

“The goal is to get people employed — we want to bring in more dollars through taxes, through building property such as IKEA, and creating jobs to have residents working,” Russell said. “We’re hoping that this will help meet those goals.”

In continuing its cooperation with Gateway, IKEA will also operate its recruitment office and hold a job fair in March on Gateway’s Long Wharf campus.

The New Haven IKEA will be the company’s first store to open in New England, and the fourth to open in the tri-state area.