The Ottumwa Courier

Opinion

June 9, 2012

Job Corps builds lives

OTTUMWA — Ten years ago, a group of leaders from Ottumwa’s education and business community came together with a common goal: to provide additional training opportunities for local youth to help meet the increasing demands of the 21st century workforce.  

On Friday, I was delighted to represent the Obama administration and see their dream come true: the recently opened Ottumwa Job Corps Center.

Job Corps is the federal government’s oldest and most successful residential education and training program. For 48 years, it has helped build the lives—and launch the careers — of American youth looking for an opportunity to realize their potential. It provides students with the skills and knowledge that help them enter the work force, the military or higher education. It also was designed to give disadvantaged youth a ladder to the middle class.

The Ottumwa Job Corps Center was built in a former World War II Navy barracks. The $24 million construction project employed 135 Iowans, and the eight buildings here were designed to meet energy-efficient and sustainable specifications. The center employs 130 full-time staff and provides training for 300 students annually.  

As the secretary of labor, I am committed to providing workers with opportunities to develop the education and skills they need to succeed in a competitive job market.

Today, the Job Corps program gives nearly 60,000 American youth hope for a brighter future every year. This is a program that clearly can help our nation through its economic recovery.

Students at Ottumwa Job Corps are studying for good-paying careers in health care, information technology, manufacturing and transportation. The Center also has partnered with Indian Hills Community College right next door, so students can pursue other career interests as well.  

Additionally, they are given the opportunity to participate in community service projects, internships, job shadowing and work-based learning that will increase their employability when they graduate. Last year, 84 percent of Job Corps graduates entered employment, higher education or the military upon completion of the program.

On Friday, I met 19-year-old Gage Taylor. Last year, he became a father to a beautiful son, Trent, who happens to be deaf. Gage left high school to go work in a foundry to support his son. He was working 16-hour days and sleeping five hours a night when he decided he needed to make a change.

Gage arrived at the Ottumwa Job Corps Center about four months ago. Now, he has his GED after earning the top score in his class. He is working toward his certified nursing assistant license and plans to take emergency medical technician courses at Indian Hills as he pursues his goal of becoming a paramedic.  

Gage is now something he never thought he’d be — a leader. Less than two weeks ago, he took his first college class at Indian Hills. He called his parents the next day and heard a voice crying over the phone. They were so proud.  

We’re proud of him, too. His is just one Job Corps success story.  There are 299 others here in Ottumwa.  

In the last three years, I’ve traveled to Job Corps centers around the country. I have brought fellow members of the president’s Cabinet to see the hope and promise of tomorrow’s leaders. At one center, the culinary students even cooked a meal for first lady Michelle Obama.

While this country’s economic problems will not be solved overnight, Job Corps can be an important piece of the solution. I am regularly impressed by the resiliency, hopefulness, optimism and drive of Job Corps students. These young people renew my faith. They remind me that no matter the situation, America can overcome any challenge.

Hilda Solis is the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

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