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Zoar gets state training grant

CHARLEMONT — The business of running an outdoor adventure center like Zoar Outdoor requires employees and guides who know river safety, zip line safety, CPR and what to do if a participant gets hurt. They are required to have training certification to meet safety standards.

But in a seasonal business, many experienced employees eventually leave for full-time, year-round work, which means new employees must be hired and trained.

That’s why business co-owner Karen Blom is pleased that Zoar Outdoor is one of 39 Massachusetts businesses to get a two-year training grant this fall from the Massachusetts Workforce Training Fund.

On Tuesday, the Gov. Patrick administration announced that $3.7 million in matching grants were awarded to private sector training initiatives that will benefit at least 3,200 employees statewide. The money for these grants comes from the payroll taxes paid by employers.

Zoar Outdoor received a grant of $25,692, which is to be used to train roughly 40 employees.

“It’s for training the next generation of leaders,” said Blom. “We get high school and college kids here for summer, and a lot will come back (for jobs) for five or six years. But next year, there will be that group that we need to replace, who go on to other work.”

Blom said she and her husband, Zoar co-owner Bruce Lessels, heard about the grant from business owners in Boston. They applied for the grant about six months ago, she said.

Zoar, which began in 1989, now has about 10 year-round managers and assistant managers; but it has employed about 140 people “on the books,” which means they might have just guided a few rafting trips, or they may have worked steadily for three months during the rafting season.

“It’s about 20 to 25 full-time equivalencies,” she said.

In all its outdoor activities, which include whitewater rafting, kayaking, canopy zip line tours and camping, Zoar sees about 20,000 people per year, Blom estimates.

“We just got the grant, so we’re starting to make plans around it. We have to do (the training) in the shoulder seasons — not during the peak of summer,” she said.

Businesses apply for grants through the Commonwealth Corp., which administers the program. Rob Offring, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, said the grants “are a testament to the businesses. They are supporting the local economy with employment opportunities,” he said.

The grants are used as a resource for businesses to increase the skill set of their incumbent employees and provide valuable training to workers.

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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