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Community News: Southwest

CRENSHAW : Training Center Hits Graduation Goal

June 11, 1995|ERIN J. AUBRY

The Toyota Automotive Training Center is in high gear: It has met its goal of graduating 200 students in two years.

"It's been really super," said Alfred Howard, who has been the center's director since October. "Everyone puts in such great effort that the job's really been a joy."

The center, which is jointly operated by the Urban League and Toyota, graduated 100 students last week and 100 last year. It has pledged to train 100 students annually and place them in such specialized positions as working on air-conditioning and exhaust systems.

Keith Moore, 27, said the center offered him something he never found the time for: the opportunity to study auto repair. "I was always interested in [auto repair], but never had the chance to do this. Before I came, I could change oil and that's about it," said Moore, who studied air conditioning and now works at Tune Up Masters in Culver City. "Repair is so technical now, you learn something new every day. The discipline involved has been great for me."

Moore, a former youth counselor, said that he brought one of his charges, 19-year-old Chafelli Wright, to the center for an orientation last year--and now both are graduates. "It's helped both of us out," said Moore. "He was like my family here. He was going through a rough time . . . and now he has hope."

Although it has met its goal, Howard said the job placement rate this year has fallen off a bit: About 80% of the graduates have found jobs in the automotive field as opposed to 100% last year.

"Some students were offered . . . good-paying positions in other fields, and took them," he explained. "They're not unemployed, they went to another field, at least for now."

Created in the aftermath of the 1992 riots, the center trains students to work on air-conditioning, brakes and suspension, install accessories and do tune-ups, detailing and general maintenance.

Howard instituted a new course last month that educates students about auto parts and prepares them for jobs behind the counter in establishments such as auto parts warehouses and specialized auto dealers.

"We really like to give students a good overview of the automotive repair industry," Howard said. "Very often you go to an auto parts store and the person in parts doesn't know anything about what you need, or you get the wrong thing. By educating students about it, they have an edge when it comes to employment. They can really help customers in a way that has nothing to do with simply looking up information in a book or on a computer."

The center has employment agreements with many Los Angeles-area auto-repair businesses and dealers, including Sears, Toyota, Midas Muffler, Don Kott Chrysler, Keyes European Automotive and SmogPro.

Despite its success, Howard admitted that he has had little success in increasing the numbers of black students at the center. The student population stands at about 30% African American, 30% Latino and 40% other ethnicities.

But because the center is in a community that is predominantly black and operated in part by an agency that primarily serves blacks, Howard says he would like to see black students account for at least 50% of the enrollment.

Howard said he is trying to get the word out through major black churches such as West Angeles Church of God In Christ, First A.M.E. and the Crenshaw Christian Center.

Though he has had no response from these institutions yet, Howard said he is far from giving up. "We generally take one of about every eight people who come through the door," he said.

"We want to see at least enough qualified black applicants in the pool to ensure their representation here."

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