After Job Corps, a youth job training and placement program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, temporarily suspended new student enrollment nationwide in January, state lawmakers are scrambling to fill the gap in Connecticut vocational training while New Haven’s unemployment rate continues to climb.

More than 400 Connecticut students enroll in Job Corps each year to earn a high school diploma or Graduate Equivalency Diploma, learn a trade, obtain third party certifications and engage in a job search. The Department of Labor froze new enrollment for Job Corps centers until June 30 in response to budget shortfalls, which U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro told the News is “unconscionable” in light of the current economic climate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in New Haven jumped from 8.1 percent to 9 percent between December and January alone — well above February’s national average of 7.7 percent. The unemployment rates among New Haven youth ages 16 to 24 and minorities are higher still.

“This enrollment freeze is yet another unwise, harmful budget decision impacting Connecticut students,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal told the News. “My hope is that legislation passed this week will enable the Department of Labor to end this enrollment freeze and allow Job Corps centers in New Haven and Hartford to begin serving new students once again.”

Bill Villano, executive director of Workforce Alliance — a New Haven-based organization contracted by the Connecticut Department of Labor to provide job training services — said that while Connecticut legislators expressed concern with the Job Corps enrollment suspension during his recent meetings in the Capitol, the program represents only a sliver of the debate surrounding the national budget and March sequestration. He said that the state is not equipped with the necessary funds to support job training and shoulder responsibility for the unemployment gap. Vocational training programs have seen a $300,000 rescission in funds for this fiscal year alone, and many programs have been reduced or cut in Gov. Dannel Malloy’s recent budget proposal, Villano said.

Villano added that Malloy has exhibited a commitment to employment incentives and initiatives. The governor dedicated $4.5 million in funding for summer jobs and year-round youth employment, in addition to allocating bond funds to support on-the-job training programs for new hires and manufacturing training programs in community colleges.

DeLauro said that safeguarding robust job training and investment opportunities is a “core responsibility of government.” She said that she supports not only federal funding for Job Corps but also Workforce Investment Act programs, which established workforce investment boards to determine local job-training needs that target demographics ranging from dislocated workers to youth.

Nationwide labor, health and education programs remain endangered, seeing cuts of nearly 7 percent in funding, or $12 billion, since 2002. The federal sequester resulted in an additional estimated 5.3 percent cut, stripping approximately $7.5 billion in funding from such programs, according to the Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services.

Providing job training in careers ranging from carpentry to culinary arts, Job Corps centers total 125 nationwide, including one based in New Haven. If you are interested in becoming an HVAC technician, visit HVAC Training HQ to get training and certification.