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Federal Program Based in Cerritos : Project Frees Trainees From Joblessness Trap

March 17, 1985|LEE HARRIS | Times Staff Writer

A welfare mother with four small children, Pamela Kallinen, 34, had not worked in seven years.

Michele Smith, 28, "could not buy a job" and had been unemployed for more than a year.

An ex-convict, Randy Fisher, 29, was trying to start a new life on the outside.

Employed for more than 30 years, Vera Ella Halabi, 59, had been laid off her electrical designer job in 1983 and worked only sporadically in 1984.

Their search for employment led them to the Job Training Partnership Act program in Cerritos, a federal project designed to train and find work for the hard-core unemployed in six Southeast cities.

The program, which has operated with annual federal grants of more than $2 million, has successfully placed more than 53% of its trainees in jobs, officials said.

The nationwide program, which was launched by the Reagan Administration two years ago, replaced the much-criticized Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA).

The major difference between JTPA and the old CETA program is that the former emphasizes finding long-term jobs in the private sector for trainees as opposed to short-term public employment, officials said.

"CETA did some good, but in many cases trainees were being paid for training. They were being paid for training but never really got a job," said John Didion, who manages the local program. Most of the jobs in CETA, whether with public agencies or private nonprofit groups, ended when the funding ran out.

In the JTPA program, "we try and fit the student with a school or organization that will prepare them for long-term jobs," Didion said.

Kallinen is typical of the program's trainees, he said.

The Lakewood resident had not worked in seven years. She had been raising four children--now ages 2 through 9--on welfare for the last three years after separating from her husband, Kallinen said.

'I Was Trapped'

"My skills were down. I couldn't afford to pay a baby sitter. I was trapped," said Kallinen, who had worked as an assistant operations officer at a savings and loan office.

After receiving 16 weeks of office training from the Southeast Regional Occupational program, which was given funds by the JTPA, Kallinen got a job as a receptionist in a private medical clinic in Long Beach.

The program paid for child care while she received training and allowed her to keep a portion of her welfare payment after she got work, Kallinen said.

"After a while I should be able to get completely off welfare," said Kallinen, who has been on the job for four weeks. "This program allowed me to start over."

Under JTPA, enrollees sign up for training programs in specific job skills such as auto mechanics, motorcycle repair, word processing, medical assistant and computer-aided drafting. There are language or math classes for those who need it.

Contracts With Organizations

The training is provided by various community organizations, local businesses, schools and colleges under contract with the local JTPA. The program pays the contractors directly for the training.

In the Southeast area, a 19-member board called the Private Industry Council, composed of representatives from business, industry and public agencies, helps determine what training enrollees will get "to make sure trainees are not being prepared for nonexistent jobs," Didion said.

The Cerritos-based program covers Bellflower, Cerritos, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood and Norwalk, an area which has an unemployment rate of 6.7%, or 12,496 people without work, according to state Employment Development Department data.

One of the trainees who got off the unemployment rolls was Michele Smith.

"I couldn't buy a job," said Smith, who had attended Santa Monica College and UCLA.

First Paycheck

Smith, who lives in Downey, got her first paycheck last Thursday from the Artesia Foot Clinic, where she works as a clerk-receptionist and medical assistant.

"The program prepared me for life in the adult world," said Smith, who was trained at the same school as Kallinen. "Those classes taught us how to dress, fill out resumes, how to interview for jobs, how to keep them and so on."

Didion said the program does stress a variety of skills.

"We try and give them a self-image as much as train them in technical ability," Didion said.

"People who want to be helped by this program can be. I'm a good example of that," said Randy Fisher of Lakewood.

Fisher said he got off on the wrong foot when he was about 13 and spent years in gangs and in trouble with the law.

Imprisoned for Robbery

"I finally went all the way," said Fisher, who wound up in prison for armed robbery in 1975 and returned there frequently, mostly for parole violations, until 1983.

"I had to make a choice to stay out," said Fisher, who has been trained as a transmission mechanic through the program.

He now has a job at a Hawaiian Gardens transmission repair garage.

Vera Ella Halabi was scared that because of her age she would not get another job after being laid off in late 1983 from a Norwalk engineering company where she had worked as an electrical designer.

The native of Manhattan spent 16 weeks at Cerritos College being trained in computer-aided drafting and now does drafting at a Pasadena engineering company.

No Job Guarantees

The program does not guarantee finding the trainee a job but it encourages the training agency to help their graduates find jobs, Didion said.

During a two-year period in which 588 people were trained, more than 53% of trainees found jobs, Didion said.

Last year, of 194 adults trained, 99 found work. Of 190 young adults between 16 and 21, 98 later were hired, Didion said.

The first year of the program, the Southeast area received $2.6 million. This year it received about $3 million. The money being spent is turning out a good product, according to Didion.

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