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Computer Training Program Helps Veterans Crack Job Market

November 21, 1985|JULIE OGASAWARA | Times Staff Writer

Jack Garcia, 39, moved to Los Angeles from Denver a year ago with hopes of finding a job. Garcia, a Vietnam veteran, had received training as a radio operator in the Navy and had 11 years of electronics experience at a telephone company.

But he said he found the Southern California job market discouraging. Although he sent out about 40 resumes, he received only one response--from the Manhattan Beach City School District. Despite his training, the only work he could find was as a maintenance worker for the district.

"It's pretty much dead end. I don't feel comfortable (there) and the advancement opportunities are just about nil," he said.

Garcia, however, may soon be able to trade in his custodial tools for computer software thanks to a new computer training center in Culver City. Garcia recently started classes there along with seven other veterans.

"If we can get one veteran a job (who) couldn't get a job before, then we've done what we had to," said Charles Allemann, treasurer of the Southern California Veterans Services Council Inc. and chairman of the California American Legion's Employment Commission, which monitors various state employment organizations such as the Employment Development Department and the California Veterans Board.

The council, the legion and the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program--a nonprofit organization that provides job placement services and legal assistance for Vietnam veterans--joined forces behind the new computer training program that Allemann said is unique in the nation because it is taught by veterans for veterans.

"We're stressing quality and making veterans computer literate," said Alex Areyan, president of the 3-year-old Veterans Services Council, which is made up of personnel specialists from Southland companies, public agencies and veterans organizations that help veterans find employment.

During the eight-week course, students will get hands-on computer experience, according to Arelene Williams, a veteran and executive director of the computer training center. Williams has taken a leave of absence from her job at the state Employment Development Department since March to volunteer at the center.

Students will also participate in sessions on resume writing and job interviewing, Williams said, and will meet with representatives of major companies.

The program got its start three years ago, when the Veterans Services Council approached TRW Inc. in Redondo Beach, which was offering computer training, Areyan said.

The Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program referred some of its clients to TRW and word of the program began to spread among veterans. TRW, however, eventually decided to discontinue the class.

Donated Computers

The leadership program decided to pick up where TRW had left off, according to Leo Thorsness, former program chairman and former civil affairs director at Litton Industries. Thorsness said he told a Litton official, also a Vietnam veteran, that a new computer training program for veterans would need computers. Litton donated two IBM computers valued at about $6,000 each, Thorsness said.

Then, Derek Zupancic, president of Data Zone Inc. of Canoga Park and a Vietnam veteran, heard about the program and donated several computers. He later was named to the board of the Southern California Veterans Services Council.

The computer training program is now offered at the American Legion Community Post No. 46 in Culver City. The veterans attend free of charge, the staff is all-volunteer and the legion does not charge any rent. Organizers estimate that the cost of the training would run about $2,000 per veteran for an eight-week class.

Allemann pointed out that the center is funded and supported entirely by veterans organizations and donations from individuals and from businesses. The program received no state money, he said. While the class is open to veterans in general, Roland Cinciarelli, executive director of the Vietnam Veterans Leadership Program, said the focus is on veterans who have been unemployed or underemployed for a long time.

Cinciarelli said the center is "barely making ends meet," but he predicted that demand would increase as more unemployed and underemployed veterans hear of the classes.

Many Vietnam veterans canot find jobs because they lost years of education and training while serving in Vietnam, Allemann said. "There are very few jobs for riflemen and machine gunners," he said.

Concentration of Veterans

Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 4.6% of Vietnam veterans nationwide were unemployed in August, 1985, Cinciarelli called the figure misleading. He said Los Angeles County has the largest concentration of Vietnam veterans in the nation and estimated that 15% to 20% of them are unemployed. (According to the Veterans Administration, Los Angeles County was home to 838,400 veterans in March, 1984, 223,600 of whom were Vietnam veterans.)

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