After working various low-paying jobs that weren’t a good fit, Barre resident John Skoda wanted to settle down with a career that could pay the bills. So this fall, Skoda signed on with Serve, Earn & Learn, a new training initiative funded this year with $1.8 million from the legislature.
On Friday, Skoda, 27, and several others graduated from Construction 101. He’s headed for a temporary position weatherizing houses for Capstone Community Action; if he’s hired permanently, he expects to make $18 an hour.
Skoda, who has a psychology degree from Castleton University, saw an ad for the free four-week construction program on Front Porch Forum, and considered it a good opportunity to learn new skills in a short period of time. After working for several years in community mental health, and then in an array of short-term jobs, he decided he needed more skills.
“I find myself at a juncture where my partner and I are looking to buy a house and have stability in our lives,” Skoda said.
Friday's graduation at the Barre Granite Museum — where some construction classes are taught — introduced some program participants to lawmakers and other supporters. The program is a collaboration between Vermont Audubon, the ReSOURCE job training program, Vermont Works for Women, and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps.
By sharing marketing and other resources, the groups, which already operate workforce development programs, can get more people to sign up, said Rhoni Basden, director of Vermont Works for Women. They also work together to find participants, provide basic job skills, and line up employment opportunities.
Lawmakers singled out Serve, Earn & Learn for funding as a way to help people find meaningful work, said Vermont Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham), who attended the graduation ceremony with seven other lawmakers.
“VYCC and Vermont Works for Women have excellent track records, so we knew the money would be well-spent and not go into programming and overhead,” Balint said. “And I can tell you from traveling around the state with the [House] speaker: everything we’re hearing in every community is that people want more opportunities for workforce development that is meaningful for young people and for people who want to change jobs.”
Through the ReSOURCE construction program, trainees are placed with an employer for two weeks, and “most often, at the end of two weeks, the employer picks up the trainee,” said Tom Longstreth, executive director of ReSOURCE, a job training program with four offices in Vermont.
Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham)
In recent years, ReSOURCE has held up to three construction-related courses with eight trainees, all in Burlington. The money appropriated this year helped ReSOURCE expand the program to 11 courses around the state, Longstreth said.
Employers list a shortage of job applicants as a critical problem. The state Department of Labor has said there are many thousands more unfilled jobs in Vermont than there are people looking for work. Accordingly, job training programs are looking for ways to help people who aren't working to reenter the workforce. Others who want to work are unable to take jobs because they can't find child care, according to Basden at Vermont Works for Women.
The Serve, Earn & Learn program helps trainees overcome barriers to working, such as transportation and housing problems, and teaches "soft" skills such as communication and confidence. As part of his construction course, Skoda was taught how to build a résumé.
New graduate Jack Tighe, 61, said he's a skilled diesel mechanic and has experience in construction. But he's never learned to use a computer and hasn't worked in years. Someone at the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation helped him set up an email account, and Tighe's hoping to start working again through Serve, Earn & Learn. He now knows how to create a résumé and to prep for a job interview.
Basden said Serve, Learn & Earn is expected to create 375 jobs for youth and young adults in Vermont this year, provide $1.2 million in earned wages or stipends, and offer 147 AmeriCorps positions.
There are many vocational training programs in Vermont, and lawmakers didn’t want to add another. They chose to fund Serve, Learn & Earn because it helps the four existing programs do more for people who are seeking work, said Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), who also attended the graduation. She visited conservation corps participants last summer who were building a structure in Groton State Park.
“Oftentimes, so much of what we create is an ad hoc program here, a program there,” she said. “This is a really good direction to go.”