Job Corps

Randy Clark, the human resources manager for the Ottumwa Job Corps Center, talks to applicants about working at the center during a job fair hosted by Iowa Workforce Development Thursday. The event continues today at the aviation building at the North Campus of Indian Hills Community College.

After 10 years of effort, the first students at the new Job Corps center should arrive in less than 10 weeks.

“Getting a Job Corps center, especially in this [political spending climate] is a huge, huge task. It’s amazing what this community pulled off,” said Mark Douglas, the new center director. “This center has been a topic in this community for 10 years. We’re excited to get rolling.”

The whole campus is owned by the federal government, but, like most job corps centers, is managed by a private company, which in Ottumwa is Career Systems Development.

“We’re planning on taking students starting in October,” Douglas said.

Before “opening,” Douglas and staff — all of who are employees of CSD —have work to do, including furnishing dorm rooms and offices, bringing in basics, like tools, and getting more staff in place.

“Right now, we’re really focused on hiring,” he said.

There were 125 positions open; CSD has already filled 23, with many of those jobs going to local people. Some new employees are currently being sent to other job corps centers for training.

Douglas said CSD really wants to hire local people. When he transferred in, that made the total number of veteran CSD employees four.

“There are still 100 openings,” he said.

During a job fair up the road Thursday, his human resources manager, Randy Clark, was hosting a question-and-answer session with candidates. Applicants had a variety of questions. They wanted to know everything from what the status of their application was to what work hours would be.

But Clark said there are some overarching themes candidates should be aware of.

“If you don’t like young people, if you don’t want to work with young people aged 16-24, then this is not the job for you,” Clark said. “Every [staff member], whether you’re the groundskeeper or a residential advisor, will model, teach and train students.”

That means, said Douglas, the proper behavior for a place of employment will be demonstrated by staff in their everyday work. When employees enter a building, they’ll remove their ball cap. If a student came in behind them and still didn’t get the idea, the staff member is expected to remind the student that ball caps are not worn indoors.

In fact, that’s the preferred way of training young people in employability and social skills, said Douglas, and it’s going on at all times. If an action would not be acceptable at a professional workplace, it will not be accepted at the Ottumwa Job Corps campus.

An example, Douglas said, would be if a student needing to speak to Douglas, “the boss,” just barged into his office. Before the subject to be discussed is brought up, Douglas would take a moment to correct the behavior.

Such things don’t always happen because a young person wants to  be rude, he agreed. They may simply have no idea that one should check with the secretary as to whether the administrator is available, wait to be given the go ahead, then knock at the door.

“It doesn’t mean you’re going to be punished — but you will learn a social skill,” Douglas said. “We need to establish the values, the norms [of what’s acceptable], the culture of this center.”

There is some independence of operating styles allowed at each center, he said. For example, the Ottumwa site is working more closely with its local community college than some locations.

But while they have some leeway in teaching, Douglas said, they remember they are on the  campus almost as a tenant of the U.S. Labor Department. And that federal entity does want things done a certain way.

The department of labor gives each center a 1,000-page handbook filled with guidelines and regulations required to operate a Job Corps site.

 Douglas knows what a Job Corps site should be like. The new center director transferred from the Pittsburgh Job Corps center, another CDS-run facility where the were 850 students instead of the 300 who will train in Ottumwa. Nor is it his first visit to Iowa; Douglas lived in Waterloo from 1987 until 2001.

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