Schenectady County

Job program success earns state grant

A surprisingly successful Capital Region jobs program has been rewarded with a $463,000 state grant

A surprisingly successful Capital Region jobs program has been rewarded with a $463,000 state grant after just three months of results.

Since April, the Albany Community Action Partnership has placed 16 unemployed workers into new jobs with benefits, a livable wage and the possibility for career advancement. Each placement came after just a two-month training course in the sorts of skills that employers need now, including weatherization, light construction and nursing.

Each trainee learns just the basic skills, with on-the-job training, and can’t advance without learning further skills. But the basics are impressing employers, even in this recession.

“Some have even been offered full-time positions before completion of their six-to-eight-week training period,” said Kathy Cloutier, executive director of the Albany Community Action Partnership.

With the new grant, announced Thursday, the agency will expand its offerings and accept many more Capital Region job seekers. State Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith said the grant would improve hundreds of lives by moving impoverished workers into well-paid careers.

“There is going to be an unprecedented demand for these jobs,” she said. “You are almost guaranteed to get a job.”

But the workers face a steep learning curve to qualify.

“Some come into the weatherization program not knowing how to read a tape measure, not knowing the difference between a Phillips and flathead screwdriver,” Smith said. “Now, they’re air-sealing 50 apartment units, not just filling in gaps in the walls but filling in gaps in their experience and education.”

One of the workers in the pilot program, Jihad Abdul-Rahman of Albany, said that the hands-on training was crucial to the learning process.

“It’s been wonderful,” he said.

He worked at a group home until the home closed. With the economy seemingly at a standstill, he was “uneasy” about finding a new job with his limited skills, he said.

“Now, I’m feeling hopeful,” he said. “I’ve been helping people weatherize their homes. I enjoy it — I enjoy helping people. And this is something I can use in my own personal life as well as helping others. Before this, I didn’t even know how to use a hammer. I couldn’t even hang curtain rods.”

The Albany program is one of many being supported by state grants this year to prepare low-income workers for new jobs. The emphasis is on jobs that can become careers, which state officials say is the only way to break the cycle of poverty.

Low-income workers are the most likely to be continuously searching for jobs, keeping a position for only a few months, they said. And while 8.7 percent of the state’s workers are unemployed, 15 percent of the lowest-paid workers — making $23,000 or less — have lost their jobs, Smith said.

Those workers are also relying on unemployment benefits more heavily than anyone else, she said. They make up 42 percent of the current unemployment beneficiaries.

“None are struggling more than our lowest-paid,” she said.

But they can’t simply leap into another job. Smith said most of the trainees need to learn not only the basics of a career but also the fundamentals of keeping a job.

“You have to understand you have to get to the job on time, you have to go every day, you have to get along with your co-workers,” she said.

The Albany program has had great success teaching those “soft skills,” she said. All 16 of the successful job seekers are still employed.

The training program is open to low-income Capital Region residents who are receiving unemployment benefits, are on public assistance or are earning minimum wage.

The first program opened at 333 Sheridan Ave. in Albany. This October, a second program will start at the Albany United Methodist Society for Albany youth. That career program will be supported by a $562,000 state grant that was also announced Thursday.

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