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The Archer Daniels Midland Co. logo is seen on a tanker truck at the ADM facility in Decatur.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

DECATUR — So far, 25 former Archer Daniels Midland Co. workers whose Decatur-based jobs were cut have gotten help through federally-funded programs designed to get people back into the workforce.

The help offered by Workforce Investment Solutions includes up to two years of education that involves training for a career that's the area has demand for — even a program that covers mortgage payments for a full year.

ADM, which is Decatur's largest employer with more than 4,000 workers, said July 20 that it would lay off an unknown number of employees across the company. It's still unclear how many were affected in Decatur, where Workforce held four "rapid response" workshops this month designed specifically for the former ADM workers. 

"While it's an unfortunate situation, people can look at it as an opportunity. This is something that they can take advantage of, and increase their skills during this time while they're drawing unemployment," said Karen Allen, program manager for the agency.

Nearly all of the participants in one of those workshops Tuesday morning had heard of the agency's offerings through local news media outlets like the Herald & Review. They all declined to be interviewed by a reporter. 

ADM spokeswoman Jackie Anderson would not comment Tuesday on any details regarding the number of people let go, how employees were notified of their terminations, what kind of severance was afforded to affected workers and if any transitional services were offered.

State law would require the company to report the job cuts publicly if they exceeded 250 full-time workers.

"Our priority during this process is the respect and care of our employees, and therefore, we are not sharing any additional details," Anderson wrote in an email. "Decatur remains our North American headquarters, and the largest single concentration of ADM employees in the world, and we continue to invest in our Decatur operations."

Workforce Investment Solutions, which is an agency operated by Macon County, uses primarily federal grant money to help workers find jobs, including those who have recently been let go.

Workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own, such as the former ADM workers, can be eligible for a number of programs that are designed to get newly unemployed workers back into the workforce quickly and efficiently.

On top of the state's unemployment insurance, which usually lasts six months, the agency offers displaced workers a chance to become full-time students at higher education programs that help them get a job that's in demand in the area.

In Macon County and Decatur, re-employment training is targeted to primarily three industries: health care, logistics and trucking, and manufacturing, according to Workforce Executive Director Rocki Wilkerson.

Allen said local companies are clamoring for commercial driving positions, and those jobs may not even require drivers to travel long distances; they could be local. 

Workforce also administers a job-placement program, which puts people changing careers in a temporary position with a local employer, and covers 50 percent of his or her wages as an incentive for employers.

"I can say, 'Show me what he has to do,' I do a study on the jobs that he's going to be doing — not sweeping floors — and I test the individual to see what his skill deficiencies are so in the six months I can tell how he's progressing, and (employers) are actually doing their job of training him for some new skills. All of the sudden they have a person that is committed, a much more productive employee after six months, they've gotten half their wages paid for which is a good deal," said Larry Peterson, special projects consultant at Workforce.

Beyond the 25 people who attended the workshops at Workforce on Aug. 7 and Tuesday, it's unknown how many other ADM workers have been let go and have not yet learned about the services available to them. There is no legal requirement for employers to make sure workers who have been let go are aware of those offerings. 

University of Illinois Labor & Employment Relations Professor Bob Bruno said industry best practices for conducting workforce reductions go beyond what's required by law. "The law is just sort of this minimal bare-bones requirements."

One practice, Bruno said, is providing workshops and information sessions on transitional services handled by agencies like Workforce while everyone is still at work.

"The workplace — until the layoff occurs — can become a workshop," Bruno said.

Whether it's announcing layoffs, offering buyouts, or any other major workforce change, "from the moment you've done any of those things, that's the point you want to trigger the full array of transition services," Bruno said.

"It would seem you need a minimum of a few weeks to do that, minimum 30 days," Bruno said. "It doesn't put the company at any risk. It's being transparent and giving the workers a chance to figure it out."

Allen said the important thing is the word is getting out in the local news media about what's available.

"Hopefully we offered them hope today — that they can come away having knowledge about opportunities," Allen said.

tlisi@herald-review.com | (217) 421-6949

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Staff Writer

Government-watchdog reporter for the Herald & Review.

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