Day in the Life: Aaron from Atlanta

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

Meet Aaron.

Aaron Hawkins has loved art as long as he can remember. Finding steady employment in his field was another matter. After graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design, Aaron bounced around from project to project and was, as he put it, “ping-ponging all over the map.”

The opportunity for a stable career presented itself in place he didn’t expect – Atlanta, Georgia, a relatively new hotspot in the entertainment industry. A growing Los Angeles-based company, Bento Box Animation Studios, had decided to open a new location in “The ATL.” The company is behind award-winning productions like the Fox series “Bob’s Burgers,” as well as Comedy Central’s “Brickleberry,” Hulu’s “The Awesomes,” and Fox’s “Bordertown.” However, animation technology is a rapidly evolving field and Bento Box discovered it was difficult to find qualified candidates in the Atlanta metro area.

The solution? Develop training to give workers the right software skills! Bento Box found a willing and flexible partner in the Atlanta Regional Commission to help them develop a customized on-the-job training program, which is supported by Workforce Investment Act funds. Enter Aaron: As one of the first to enter the training program two years ago, he moved up in the company’s ranks and is now a managing director at Bento Box, overseeing the work of 35-40 animators and designers.

Today, Secretary Tom Perez is going to Atlanta to meet Aaron. This is the fifth of five “day in the life” visits Secretary Perez has made 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 today.

The Skills to Succeed.

Secretary Perez meets Aaron:

Aaron had production experience, but not the right software skills. The Bento Box training program helped Aaron learn a cutting-edge animation software program, Toon Boom; “They made an investment in me from day one,” he said. “The training in the software they’ve been using has allowed me to grow here.”

Aaron says the skills training he received at Bento Box give him a competitive edge compared to others in his field: “It gives me another tool in my arsenal – a particular tool that has become a platform for the industry. It’s hugely helpful.”

Secretary Perez was greeted by an animated video … of himself!

Watch the short video Bento Box made for Secretary Perez’s visit:

Now that Bento Box is in its second year of the training program, several of the graduates of the training program – including Aaron – are able to serve as on-site supervisors and train new employees that come through the program. “Not only do I instruct … I’m able to share my experience and help them be a better artist,” he shared. “It’s very rewarding.”

Training on the Job.

Employers across the country are discovering that their workforce needs can met efficiently through on-the-job training. It expands the pool of job candidates to include those who have plenty motivation but who otherwise wouldn’t be immediately employable because they’re missing certain technical skills.

Sadeeq, a Bento Box employee, told Secretary Perez he originally went to college to be a banker but wanted a different path that would allow him to develop his creative talents, and this program was what finally gave him that opportunity.

On-the-job training can help fill the gap for those with years of work experience or those with none at all. Bento Box has hired a number of recent college graduates, in addition to people like Aaron. “Most [employers] are looking for a ton of experience. And I understand that,” Aaron said. “But when I was first looking for work right out of college, it was hard. This company brings in kids right after they graduate and they train them.”

So far, more than 40 people have completed the Bento Box program and nearly all have been converted to full-time employees. The company anticipates that their training program will help double their workforce over the next year (currently around 125 employees). It has enabled them to take on large-scale projects at the Atlanta studio, and empowered them to succeed in a competitive industry.

Investing in a Skilled Workforce.

Earlier in the day, at an event organized by Invest Atlanta, Secretary Perez met with Mayor Kasim Reed and dozens of business owners and employers, members of nonprofits and foundations, local government officials, labor leaders and workforce system stakeholders.

Secretary Perez noted in remarks to the group that Atlanta is rumored to be the next Hollywood but that without a steady pipeline of workers who have the skills that employers need right now, production companies will pack up and go elsewhere. This problem is true in other industries and other cities. One of the biggest challenges we face as we continue to recover, he noted, is the shortage of skilled workers in fast-growing industries. That’s why the administration has made “job-driven” training a top priority.

Bento Box’s program has been part of a concerted effort on the part of Atlanta Regional Commission, the Georgia Department of Economic Development and local chambers of commerce to attract new businesses to the area. The new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act encourages these kinds of efforts, and it will help coordinate resources among local, regional and federal partners to support programs like the one at Bento Box.

Apprenticeship is another kind of on-the-job training that is working all across the country, and Atlanta is home to a company that is a national model: UPS. The company has a large-scale Registered Apprenticeship program for its drivers, and is beefing up its program to expand apprenticeship opportunities for veterans.

Secretary Perez also pointed out that our economy driven by consumer demand. Raising the minimum wage would put more money in the pockets of working people, who in turn pump it right back into the economy. That helps more businesses grow, which creates more jobs. We must work together and seize win-win solutions, including on-the-job training and wages that support working families.

For a full recap of Secretary Perez’s trip across the country ahead of Labor Day, and to learn what’s next for the Department of Labor this year, check out

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Comments (3)

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  1. Sophia Barksdale says:

    Hello my name is Sophia Barksdale, I recently graduated from college in May of 2013 with two bachelors degrees (BS in Marketing and BA in visual arts) and as a artist this article has given me hope. I am also bouncing around from job to job looking for a place to master my skills and talents, but also to pay bills which leaves little to no space for internships or hopes of my dream job. Its so very true many potential employer require so much experience, and generally will not take a second look without it. To know Bento Box Animation Studios is a company willing to give educated and motivated artist the opportunity to learn and growth on the job is wonderful and inspirational. I am very interested to know is there a ways to become a part of Bento Box training program?

  2. Mia Pressley says:

    Hi Sophia and thanks for your comment. I’m the Principal Special Projects Manager with the Atlanta Regional Commission/Atlanta Regional Workforce Board. I’d be happy to discuss your career ambitions and our work in the fast growing digital media environment in Atlanta. It was great hearing the optimism conveyed in your comment.

  3. Andre Bowser says:

    The animation of the labor sec. rocks! (and rolls!)

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