The Billings Outpost

Workers, not jobs, needed here

By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

Recently, named Billings the third-easiest city in the country in which to find a job. The only problem is that there is a large gap between the number of jobs available and the number of local residents who can fill them.

“That study said that there are 0.9 applicants for every open position,” said Steve Arveschoug of Big Sky Economic Development. “So we don’t even have a full body! In essence, what it is saying is that we have a very tight labor market. There are a lot of factors in play with that, but the need for help is being felt in every layer of the local economy. We have the luxury of being a great place for people to come and find a job, but we also have the challenge of making sure that the talent pool is big enough and has the appropriate skills to meet the needs of current and future employers.”

For the past 18 months, members of the Billings Works Workforce Council have been working to address that disparity. Now, they need the help of local business owners to create a strategic plan for dealing with this problem.

On Jan. 8, the council announced the launch of the Billings Works Survey in which employers can let their business needs be known.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 14:14

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Rules fight in Helena

By MICHAEL WRIGHT - Community News Service - UM School of Journalism

Legislative rules, usually too wonky for the non-politico to care about, drummed up conversation around the state and dominated the first week of the 64th Montana Legislature, providing what some called one of the key votes of the session.

Just before the House was to vote on the rules resolution – the first floor vote of the session - the parties worked out a deal that gave each party six “silver bullets” or chances to save their bills from dying in committee, something the Democrats may need to get bills like Medicaid expansion to the House floor for debate.

The vote showed a split in the Republican majority still exists, as some of the more conservative members of the party complained that others had joined with the Democrats to force new House Speaker Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, to cut a deal.

The kerfuffle over the rules started in December. Proposed rule changes came out in the weeks leading up to the 2015 session that would make it easier for Knudsen to kill legislation by burying it in the House Appropriations committee. 

In a Democratic party press conference on the first day of the session, House Minority Leader Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, said his party would fight the changes and would work on “ensuring majority rule is what does rule,” rather than letting the opposition have its way.

Hunter’s problem with the rules centered on differences in the types of majorities required for advancing bills through the process in different ways.

Last Updated on Thursday, 15 January 2015 14:12

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Finding new ways up - Beadwork helps break crime cycle


beadworkOne of the most important moments in Jerel Driver’s life came 3½ years ago, two days before he was to start serving a prison term for criminal endangerment.

He was living in Glendive, where he committed most of his crimes. He said all his trouble involved the same two things: alcohol and violence.

“I grew up fighting,” he said. “That’s the way it was. You were taught to fight, to protect yourself.”

The prison term he was facing in Glendive in 2011 was nothing new for Driver, who is 61. How much time has he spent in prison?

“I would say it comes to half my life — 30 years,” he said. “It’s nothing to be proud of. But if that’s all I have to spend, I’m one of the lucky ones.”

That life-changing event came when he was visited by his niece, who was working for the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C. In March 2011, when she heard her uncle was going back to prison, she flew all the way out to Glendive to see him.

“She told me I’d better make this the last time, and figure out how to change my life,” he said, recalling that he had tears in his eyes when he listened to her talk. “It hit home. I mean, she didn’t have to do that.”

His niece’s message was reinforced by an alcohol counselor he had at Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. The counselor “hammered on me,” he said, urging him to take responsibility for his life, to learn how to deal with his anger before lashing out at those around him.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 January 2015 13:06

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Finding new ways up - Climbing wall spurs student involvement

By MADELEINE CUMMINGS - Special to The Outpost

PRYOR – Armed with about $8,000 in grant money and a box of donated climbing harnesses and shoes, Pryor teacher Loren Rausch set out last year to share one of his life’s passions with his students at Plenty Coups High School.

Rausch, a second-year science teacher at the school, has long been a rock-climbing aficionado, climbing in Alaska and Nepal between finishing his undergraduate degree and starting his job in Pryor. So, during his first year at Plenty Coups, which is located on the Crow Reservation, Rausch started ordering parts to build a 22-foot climbing wall in the school’s gymnasium.

Most of the materials were purchased using a tiny portion of a state-funded school improvement grant Plenty Coups received. And over the last year, shop teacher Rod Richard spent more than 200 hours drilling holes, painting plywood, and, finally, adding ropes.

The wall debuted in October for students, complete with four color-coded routes and the phrase “climbing to higher education” written across its face. So far, the wall has accomplished more than Rausch, a 33-year-old from Shepherd, ever imagined. It has provided students at this struggling school with not just a new hobby, but impromptu science lessons, a reason to come to school and a deeper connection to him and to each other.

Last Updated on Saturday, 10 January 2015 13:10

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