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Economy & Business

St. Louis Job Corps has hundreds of openings

Shameika Wills and Tyler Parker received instruction in office administration from LaTunya Cropper (far left) at the St. Louis Job Corps Center on North Goodfellow Avenue on February 18
Wiley Price | St. Louis American
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“We’re supposed to have 520 students in here, but we have just half of that,” said Redford Salmon, director of the St. Louis Job Corps Center. “I don’t want this to be a secret. We have a great opportunity here to train the future employees of America.”

The St. Louis Job Corps Center is a program of the U.S. Department of Labor operated by an independent contractor, Adams and Associates, an employee-owned company based in Reno, Nevada that employs Salmon and the rest of the center’s 200 full-time staff.

The program is free – in fact, it pays students a stipend – for youths aged 16 to 24 who are eligible based on financial circumstances. Financial criteria include income, size of family, and whether the student is claimed as a dependent or claims any dependents. Salmon encouraged any youth who is interested to call recruiter Jonathan Johnson at 314-679-0300 for an admissions interview to see if they are eligible.

The St. Louis Job Corps Center – one of 125 around the nation – offers training in a range of professional fields. Every few years, the Department of Labor evaluates the local economy and its economic needs and helps to coordinate local training “in job fields that pay well enough for a person to live on,” according to Jeffrey Taylor, business community liaison for St. Louis Job Corps.

“Our students here are looking for opportunity, for vocational training,” Salmon said. “We focus on employability and necessary job skills.”

Currently, the St. Louis center provides training in the following fields: bricklayer, building and apartment maintenance/facilities maintenance, carpentry, cement mason, certified nurse's assistant, culinary arts/food services, material handlers, office assistant, painter, pharmacy technician, plasterer, retail sales, security guard, Transportation Communication Union and welder.

The center provides valuable third-party certification in every trade. Given that many of the teachers come from labor unions, it also can offer a path into the apprentice programs that many African Americans often claim are difficult for them to access.

“Our bricklaying, painting, plastering and carpentry students can go into pre-apprentice programs,” Taylor said. “Nothing is guaranteed, but we have connections to employers and many of our instructors come from unions.”

Taylor produces an in-house newsletter, the St. Louis JC Standard. The February 5 edition shows students from the center shadowing apprentice carpenters on a Tarlton Construction job, as well as members from  the Local United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry Local 562 visiting the center to recruit welding students. It also reports on plastering student Chancellor Stuby landing a job with J.D.R Construction making $12.42 an hour as a member of Plasterers’ Local 3.

Chasan Lenard, who entered the program when he was 24 but is now 25, is training in painting with hopes of becoming a union painter. He offered the highest possible praise for Michael Anderson, the union painter who is training him: “it’s unexplainable, unimaginable, amazing, terrific training, a unique blend of teaching, understanding and patience.”

 

‘A second chance’

Salmon said that Job Corps has the reputation of being a training program for dropouts that is “unfair,” but several students interviewed were, indeed, dropouts – including Job Corps dropouts giving the program a second chance.

This is true of Lenard. “This is my second time around,” he said. “I came back because I felt like I wasn’t done. When I first came in, I didn’t know anything at all. This is a second chance.”

Salmon said that 45 percent of Job Corps students enter the program with a high school diploma, and some have taken some college courses. Job Corps requires that they complete their high school education as part of their training. “They can’t get a job without it,” Taylor said.

James Thornton, 19, is another Job Corps dropout giving the program a second chance. Actually, he is a Job Corps kickout – he was kicked out of Job Corps in Milwaukee two years ago. He has been studying building construction technology at the St. Louis center for the past few months.

“I have goals and dreams in life,” Thornton said. “I am trying to be somewhere in life. That’s why I came back to Job Corps.”

Unlike Lenard, who lives at home just a few blocks from the Job Corps center on North Goodfellow Avenue, Thornton lives on campus. Taylor said the St. Louis center has 293 students, and 227 of them live in the dorms. (The dorms were designed for 440 residential students.) They are divided by gender and sleep four to a room, with four residents sharing a shower.

There is a cafeteria and facilities for recreation and medical care, with no charge for onsite medical services. In a new program, a barber visits the center regularly, and haircuts are required.

The center also has a Student Government Association; its current president is Wyatt Newbill, who is studying building construction technology. The January 29 edition of the St. Louis JC Standard shows Newbill greeting John Scates from U.S. Senator Roy Blunt’s St. Louis District Office when Scates visited the center.

Chasan Lenard is studying painting at the St. Louis Job Corps Center with the intention of becoming a union painter. The center has teachers from trade unions that often recruit students for pre-apprentice programs.
Credit Wiley Price | St. Louis American
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Chasan Lenard is studying painting at the St. Louis Job Corps Center with the intention of becoming a union painter. The center has teachers from trade unions that often recruit students for pre-apprentice programs.

The St. Louis Job Corps dorms are run with much more discipline than the typical college campus housing. There is a 9:30 p.m. curfew Sunday through Thursday, followed by an accountability group meeting, with lights out between 10:30-11 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, curfew is moved back to 10:30 p.m. with lights out at midnight.

“They can also fill out a weekend pass to leave for the weekend, similar to the military,” Taylor said. Also similar to the military, a guard stands watch at the gate, and students must pass through security and a metal detector when returning to the center.

Thornton finds the group residential setting to be part of the growth experience at St. Louis Job Corps.

“It’s great to be around talented people every day,” he said. “We’re like a family. We bond and talk to each other when we’re down.”

‘A significant tragedy’

Tragically, that was not Matthew Anderson’s St. Louis Job Corps experience. He was shot and killed in his St. Louis Job Corps dorm last April 22. One of his roommates, Matthew Carlock, was charged with first degree murder and armed criminal action. Carlock awaits trial on May 16.

“We had a significant tragedy at this center,” said Salmon, who was not here then.

At that time, the St. Louis center was operated by MINACT, which has the most Job Corps contracts nationwide. Adams and Associates took over operation of the St. Louis center on October 1, and Salmon, 38, was brought here from a Job Corps site in Atterbury, Indiana.

“Safety was a major concern,” Salmon said. “I was coming from a larger facility where I provided a safe environment.” The Atterbury site sprawls over 100 acres; the St. Louis site is only 15 acres.

Salmon said, “I had the opportunity to revamp and change the dynamic of this program.”

Tyler Parker, 23, had been studying at the center for two weeks when she spoke to The American. The environment she discovered at the center was anything but dangerous or violent.

“I like the discipline,” she said. “It’s nice to see a bunch of black students come together and be positive. I get a lot of inspiration here.”

Parker lives off-campus in South St. Louis; Job Corps provides a bus pass for her transportation. She is still going through the “career prep period, where you figure out where you’re at and they teach you the rules.” She is finding the atmosphere at the center just as important as the education. “Everybody here is really positive,” she said. “I plan to use every little bit they give me.”

The February 5 edition of the St. Louis JC Standard provides a list of 10 interpersonal tips, which is the sort of thing Salmon also tells students to their face.

“Be an active listener,” one tip urges. “Listening shows you intend to both hear and recognize another’s perspective. Use your own words to repeat what they said. By doing this, they know you’ve processed their ideas. Col-leagues will feel more connected to you knowing that you listen to them.”

Like her fellow students interviewed by The American, Parker is not looking for her first job. Thornton started delivering newspapers before school at age 12. Lenard works in maintenance at Wal-Mart when he is not training at Job Corps.

“I already had jobs, but I felt like I wasn’t progressing,” Parker said. “I felt like I worked hard, but didn’t get promoted. I want some credentials. I don’t just want to work, I want to be noticed.”

New Job Corps program classes begin weekly. For recruitment call 314-679-0300 or visithttp://stlouis.jobcorps.gov

Chris King is editorial director of the St. Louis American

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