Editor’s note: Leading up to Labor Day 2014, Secretary Tom Perez is traveling across the country to talk with Americans about how we can help more people succeed in the workplace and at home. Follow him along the way with live updates at www.dol.gov/LaborDay.
Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act in 1964, which created Job Corps − an ambitious residential education and training program for low-income young people run by the Labor Department.
Since then, Job Corps has served as a springboard to opportunity for more than 2.7 million young people who otherwise might have been left on the sidelines.
Holley Stafford of Cardova, Tennessee, left high school at 18. She was determined to get her GED but she knew she would need some help along the way. A friend told her about the Benjamin L. Hooks Job Corps Center in Memphis, and she enrolled right away. Now, at 20 years old, Holley has completed the trade carpentry program, received her GED and works for the carpentry union receiving on-the-job training on a remodel project at a Kroger grocery store.
Today, Secretary Tom Perez is traveling to Memphis to meet with her. This is the third of five “day in the life” visits Secretary Perez will be making over the next week during his travel across the country – a chance to talk directly with the people the Labor Department works for every day.
We want to make sure you see what he sees, too. Follow along for updates from his trip.
How Far She’s Come.
Secretary Perez met Holley at the Kroger she’s remodeling. Even though the Job Corps carpentry program was not easy, Holley said she is proud of how far she’s come: “It was good in the long run. It wasn’t easy – but now I’m seeing how it’s already benefiting me. My instructor was able to help me get into the union, which was what I wanted. If you don’t have a high school diploma – like I didn’t – and you want a career, it’s a way to avoid having to jump from job to job.”
As one of the few women in construction in her community, Holley believes she brings a new perspective to the project. “Since I was younger, I’ve always liked to fix things and I’m glad I’m finally getting an opportunity to do something that uses what I think I do best.”
Breakfast and Conversation.
Holley’s Job Corps instructor, Joe Kerley, joined her and Secretary Perez at the Kroger for donuts. “She shined through and I knew she was going to do well,” Joe said. “To see Holley succeed like she has is why I love my job.” Elbert Baum, Holley’s supervisor at Kroger, also joined the conversation and noted that Holley was a quick learner.
— US Labor Department (@USDOL) August 20, 2014
Holley said her dream is to work on residential housing projects and she wants to further her education: “After finishing my apprenticeship, I’m thinking about going to school for architecture so I can design houses – ones with secret doors and rooms.”
Job Corps has allowed Holley and many others like her the opportunity to realize their full potential, live their dreams and contribute to their communities.
Job Training that Works.
Secretary Perez arrives at the Job Corps center in Memphis and meets students in the culinary (top) and clinical medical assistant (bottom) programs:
Carpentry program students at the Memphis center have a 90 percent placement rate. Secretary Perez accepts a hammer race challenge from a student, Ashley, who proves she’s got some serious skills!
In remarks at the center, Secretary Perez noted that it’s fitting to celebrating the program’s 50th anniversary in Memphis – a city that holds an important place in our nation’s civil rights history. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down in 1968 in Memphis while there to support Memphis sanitation workers who were fighting for better wages and safer working conditions.
“Job Corps is about economic justice. It’s about creating opportunity where it seems that none exists. It’s about breaking down barriers so that young people who have been left on the sidelines can get in the game.” – Secretary Perez
Aleatha McMoore and Princess Hathaway (below) met in the Memphis center’s phlebotomy program and became best friends. They’ve graduated and now work as medical assistants at the Memphis Health Center. “I didn’t have anywhere to stay for me and my two children. And I wouldn’t have survived without Job Corps or be doing what I’m doing now,” Aleatha said. “I started with nothing and now I’m able to get a car, and I’m a home owner starting this year.” Princess had a similar story: “McDonalds was my first job. I was there for 5 years. I knew I wanted to do nursing and I knew Job Corps would at least get me in the field. And now I’m in school [the nursing program at Baptist College], working and have a career. This has given me the stability I need.”
Students in the Memphis center’s computer service technician program:
After five decades, Job Corps continues its record of success. Today, at 125 centers in 48 states, students learn the skills they need to secure good jobs in more than 100 areas – from auto maintenance to information technology, from health care to hospitality, from construction to accounting. Some have become doctors, lawyers and entertainment executives. During the last year, 81 percent of Job Corps graduates found a job, joined the military or went on to higher education. While in the program, students on average improve two grade levels in reading, writing or math.
As our workforce changes to reflect a 21st-century economy, Job Corps will continue to provide a pathway for Americans to access training and skills that meet employers’ needs.
Tomorrow, Secretary Perez will be in Cleveland to meet with more workers, employers and community leaders. Get the latest on his trip here.