November 8, 2005
by Diana Furchtgott-Roth
With at least $60 billion in government funds being spent to help those displaced by Hurricane Katrina, now is a good time to look at job-training programs that actually work. One is right here in the District -- the Center for Employment Training, which is run by one of the city's preeminent charities, So Others Might Eat (SOME).
SOME's Anacostia facility, which is funded through private donations, graduates 82 percent of its students -- a better success rate than most government training programs, even though some of the center's students are homeless or have prison records. The program's graduates go on to jobs that pay $12 to $15 an hour. The fee for the training is $50 for those at or below 200 percent of the poverty line. A few graduates in the building maintenance field are making $80,000 annually after three years on the job.
Students can train as building maintenance technicians, medical administrative assistants, or business or customer-relations associates. Norman Aynbinder, the center's director, picked these fields because they pay well, are in steady demand and offer starting positions that can lead to a real career.
David Leathers teaches building maintenance at the Anacostia facility. His students wear the SOME uniform of brown pants and green flannel shirts. His courses include training in carpentry and plumbing, and electrical, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning work. His shop contains a kitchen and a bathroom that can be disassembled and put together again. Students also get hands-on experience maintaining the equipment in SOME's buildings. Most take six months to finish Leathers's course.
Roxanne Dunigan trains medical administrative assistants. She teaches them medical terminology, how to deal with patients and how to become proficient on accounting and information management systems. Her classroom has its own medical front office, with scheduling and billing software.
Dunigan's students learn Word and Excel software, business English and math, interviewing skills, problem-solving, conflict resolution and customer relations. Their skills are all acquired in clean, cheerful, well-lighted classrooms.
SOME achieves its impressive results by looking at the whole person. The center helps students set goals and coordinate transportation and child care. And when the students are ready to go out on the job market, it teaches them interviewing skills and gives them access to a "career boutique" -- a room of donated suits, dresses, white shirts, ties and shoes as well as accessories and cosmetics.
SOME understands that people need more than food, housing and jobs to lift themselves out of poverty -- they need careers. So its Anacostia facility has a career center open to alumni as well as graduates. The center posts jobs; it has private booths from which to make phone calls and computers to format resumes and search the Internet. It also provides links to area businesses, including Clark Construction Group, Providence Hospital, Marriott, the Smithsonian Institution and Complete Building Services.
Many lives have been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. While federal dollars will help ease temporary discomfort, programs such as SOME's Center for Employment Training will be crucial to helping people rebuild their lives. The federal government could do worse than copy the teamwork that is flourishing in its own backyard.
This article appeared in the Washington Post on November 6, 2005.
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former chief economist of the U.S. Department of Labor, was a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute from 2005 to 2011.
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