Teaching Survival Skills In A Down Economy
Career Resource Specialist Juvie Gonzalez helps his students fill out job
applications at the Milken Family Literacy and Youth Training Center.
Career Resource Specialist Juvie Gonzalez paced slowly around the computer lab at the Los Angeles Urban League Milken Family Literacy and Youth Training Center. Ten male students sat with eyes glued to the screen of the black Dell desktop computers in front of them.
They were filling out job applications. It was just practice, as Gonzalez casually reminded them, but most took it very seriously. One student even changed his email address at Gonzalez's request.
The students asked several questions ranging from how to report military service to criminal offenses.
"If you have any kind of record, you want to be honest from the get," Gonzalez answered.
When asked what job they envision holding, the answers spanned from music executives to machine operators.
"Just know that you have options," Gonzalez said to the class. "And it's a good thing to have options."
Gonzalez's Career Readiness class is one of the employment services offered at the Milken Center on Crenshaw Boulevard within the 70 blocks designated by the Los Angeles Urban League for its Neighborhoods@Work Initiative. It faces a steep challenge in these down economic times. The unemployment rate is 34 percent, which is so high that Neighborhoods@Work officials have downsized their goals and say they want to reduce the rate to 30 percent by the end of the five-year program.
Even that will not be easy. To stay on track, the Urban League estimates it will need to find jobs for 330 residents this year, and there are not many firms hiring within the project area. As the annual report of Neighborhoods@Work puts it: local businesses "lack the capacity to provide living wage employment opportunities."
During a recent visit by Neon Tommy to the Milken Center, Candice Black, a GED preparation course instructor, said the center's adoption into the initiative was a welcome one.
"Our services were not branching out to what we see as Los Angeles," said Black. "So with Neighborhoods@Work, it's like, 'Let's focus on these 70 blocks. Let's try and enhance what's going on in these 70 blocks.'"
A student at the Milken Center follows Gonzalez's step-by-step instructions for
filling out a job application. (Catherine Cloutier)
The Milken Center opens its doors to about 45 youth between the ages of 17-21 each day. Black said most are youth who have been out of school for two to three years. When they start classes at the Milken Center, the students are given a city-administered test to determine their skill level. Black noted that about 80 percent function at or below an 8th grade level.
"They just got to creep through the system," said Black. "If I'm trying to prep them for the GED, which is for 9th to 12th grade, and they're reading at a 3rd grade level, how realistic is it for them to acquire it?"
The goal of the GED preparation class is for students to finish two grade-levels higher then when they begin.This is determined by a post-class test.
The program, heavily funded by the Workforce Investment Act, also extends beyond the classroom. One of its most appealing programs, the Worksite Training Program, offers paid work experience. Participants spend up to 160 hours at a worksite and are paid $8 an hour.
Youth obtain internships in fields such as health care, childcare, law enforcement, and employment services.
"[The internship] differs depending on the interests [the student] has. We try to tailor it to them," Black said.
The Urban League noted in an e-mail that this program has the highest enrollment and has a wait list of 300 to 400 youth.
Forty-five youth between the ages of 17 and 21 attend employment services
at the Milken Family Literacy and Youth Training Center each day.
Black, however, said that program has not seen many Latino participants.
"[Latino participants] are present. They are relevant," said Black. "But maybe our marketing does need to be bilingual on the outside so we can attract a larger audience,"
The Milken Center has at least four Spanish speakers in house, said Black. All of their fliers and applications are bilingual.
But fliers or signs did not bring student Clarence Johnson to the Milken Center.
Johnson, 22, said a friend of family friend completed the Career Readiness program, later going on to gain a degree from UCLA.
"This program had a lot to do with him going to UCLA and getting that done," Johnson asserted.
Previously a bike messenger in Century City, Johnson lost his job when the company went under. He came to the Milken Center after five months of unemployment.
For Johnson, the Milken Center offered attractive possibilities.
"[The Milken Center is] going to help me out with clothes to wear. They have job fairs and even paid work experience," Johnson said.
Johnson said some of the material seemed repetitive, but he did find the class helpful.
"Something like putting NA (not applicable) on empty lines [in a job application] is something I didn't know. Those small things like that help," Johnson said.
Johnson hopes his experience in the class will lead to a paid internship and eventually, a job.
"It's all about the experience," Gonzalez reminded his class. "And that you can show you did the work."
To read our entire package on Neighborhoods@Work, which includes an evaluation of the overall program, its results in revitalizing the neighborhood, interviews with residents and a day in the life of a student, click here. We also include video excerpts of our interview with Urban League CEO Blair Taylor.