Northlands gets new operator

VERGENNES — A company based in Anchorage, Alaska, but already familiar with Northlands Job Corps in Vergennes has won the latest five-year contract with the U.S. Department of Labor to operate the federal job training center for disadvantaged youths.
An official of that company, Alutiiq Professional Services LLC, said few changes are planned in staffing and programming after a transition that will become official on Thursday.
“Alutiiq Professional Services (APS) does not anticipate any significant program changes at the center,” said Vice President for Corporate Affairs Jana Turvey in an email.
Turvey also said almost all of Northlands’ 121 employees would retain their jobs, although they had to re-apply.
“Of the employees that worked under the previous contract, 96 percent have been hired to work under the new contract,” Turvey wrote.
Ted Fitzgerald, a spokesman with the U.S. DOL’s Boston regional office, said Alutiiq, which already had a subcontract to help operate the center, won the main contract to run Northlands with a bid of about $41.2 million. The DOL oversees the Job Corps program, but subcontracts operation of the 123 Job Corps centers around the nation to private firms.
Alutiiq replaces ResCare Inc. at the helm of the 30-year-old, 280-student center. ResCare contracts with the DOL to operate about a sixth of the nation’s Job Corps centers. Contracts are typically awarded for five years, then put out for bid again. ResCare, a Fortune 500 company, operated Northlands for the past five years after winning the contract with a bid of $14.2 million for the first two years.
However, both Alutiiq and ResCare  have been and will remain on the site, according to center director Tony Staynings, who is switching employers and staying on the job.
Staynings said Alutiiq and ResCare have worked together for the past five years at Northlands and will continue to work together moving forward.
“They are basically reversing roles,” said Staynings, who has overseen Northlands for about two years. “It’s basically a seamless transition.”
Staynings said Alutiiq previously subcontracted with ResCare to provide “a lot of administrative support,” including financial work, purchasing, property maintenance, transportation and security.
Now, he said, Alutiiq will completely take over all administration of the roughly 64-acre center, which the DOL leases from the state, while ResCare will provide all academic and vocational training for its 16- to 24-year-old students from around New England and the Northeast.
“ResCare will be subcontracted to provide the career development services,” Staynings said. “The rest of the program will be overseen and administered by Alutiiq.”
Northlands is one of six Job Corps centers that Alutiiq either operates or provides services to; others are in Michigan, Oklahoma, Virginia and Florida. Alutiiq includes a dozen firms under its corporate umbrella, all of whom contract to do government work. According to Alutiiq’s corporate website, the company is a subsidiary of Afognak Native Corp., based in Kodiak, Alaska, and all its shareholders are the Afognak native Alaskan people.
One goal of ResCare emphasized in its 2005 contract proposal remains unmet: The company said it hoped to increase the percentage of Vermont students at Northlands, but Staynings confirmed on Friday that percentage remained roughly at its historic level of about 30 percent.
Turvey said Alutiiq hoped for a dramatic increase in that figure.
“The center’s objective is to obtain approximately 80 percent enrollment of in-state students and we will work diligently to obtain that goal,” she said.
ResCare has done well to operate at capacity, and has been at its full 280-student strength for the past year, Staynings said.
Meanwhile, Northlands’ ranking among the 123 centers nationwide — as determined by its percentages of vocational completers, retention of students, and employment placements, among other criteria — has remained stagnant, ranging between 79th and 87th in the past two years and now standing at 83rd, according to Fitzgerald.
Staynings, however, said he expects recent upgrades to the educational program will start to show up in the rankings.
Turvey also addressed the question of relations with the host community. She pledged Alutiiq would seek a strong partnership with Vergennes officials.
“APS looks forward to engaging and working with the community of Vergennes,” she said.
Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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