Program Helps NAs Learn Skills For Union Trades - WIND - Caters To Vets
By Joel Hood – Chicago TribuneDecember 10, 2008
Submitted by Native Workplace
Surely there are many benefits to raising a young family in a tiny, rural town like Black River Falls in west-central Wisconsin. A thriving job market is not among them.
So when Jose Ortiz, 34, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, became a father for the first time almost two years ago, he took stock of his life. What became clear was that most people his age who had stayed in Black River Falls were working dead-end jobs at the casino or for meager wages as office clerks—choices that typify the lack of opportunities facing Native Americans on tribal lands or in small towns far outside urban centers.
Seeking a way out, Ortiz enrolled in a pilot job-training program with a pipe-fitters union in Mokena to learn basic welding skills that could land him a union job with benefits and good pay. The training is part of a 3-month-old federal program in the Chicago and Phoenix areas designed to unlock doors to the kinds of trade jobs that had long seemed out of reach for many Native Americans.
“Once people receive this training, they’re not only able to move off the reservation, but they have the life skills that are needed on the reservation if they choose to go back,” said Robert Middleton, director of Indian, Energy and Economic Development for the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The effort is a spinoff of a National Iron Workers Indian program based in Chicago, which has trained more than 1,200 Native Americans in the commercial building trade for more than a decade. The hope, Middleton said, is to expand training with the plumbers and pipe fitters unions to Utah and New Mexico in the coming years, encouraging dozens more to start their own businesses and break free from the cycle of dead-end jobs.
“The students we’ve talked to know how valuable this opportunity is,” Middleton said. “They view this as their shot.”Ortiz was among 16 from tribal lands around the country who landed in September at the Pipe Fitters Local 597 Training Center in Mokena, where welding instructors crammed into 16 weeks what it sometimes takes a beginner two years to learn.
“This is the greatest opportunity I’ve ever had in my life,” said Ortiz, who lived in Chicago until age 17. “But it’s intense. There was a lot we had to learn.
”The federal government pays for lodging, food and daily expenses, totaling about $5,000 a student. The unions donate their expertise and training equipment. All that’s required from the students is the initial travel cost and the sacrifice of leaving their families for four months.
“To me, leaving my family was the toughest thing,” said Dana Jimerson, 39, a father of three and a member of the Seneca Nation in upstate New York. “It wears on you being away for so long.”
Not that there’s much idle time during the day. The students, who live together in a hotel in Tinley Park, are shuttled to the training center by 7 a.m. each day. Workdays begin with classroom instruction on basic stick-welding techniques. But soon the students are sent to the training floor, where they can spend hours stooped over twists of burnt metal and an intense, crackling flame. They work five days a week, but some log extra hours on the weekends to hone their skills.
“The most challenging part is learning to be patient and dealing with rejection when something doesn’t go right,” said Owen Tincup, a Lakota Sioux from Eagle Butte, S.D. “But I feel lucky to be a part of this. There’s nothing like this for me back home.”
Michael Shue, an instructor at the training center, said the demands of the program already have weeded out those who were not committed. Of the 16 who began training, only eight remain. Shue said four failed unscheduled drug tests after they arrived, three were released for poor performance and one left because of a medical condition.
But those who complete the program Monday will earn an apprenticeship certification that can initially bring hourly pay between $16 and $20 and later up to $30—three to four times what many jobs back home offer, Ortiz said.
While some students return home to hunt for work, many will be given entry-level union jobs that can take them to another region.
When students talk about this program bringing opportunity, they don’t just mean for higher wages but for broadening perspectives, Ortiz said.
“You get one of those jobs back home and your chance for advancement is, like, slim and none,” he said. “But you come here and you work hard and … there are all these other opportunities that open up to you.“This is a godsend.”
WIND: Catering to Veterans
Mesaland Community College - Tucumcari, NM
The North American Wind Research and Training Center provides instruction in wind turbine technology, turbine maintenance, tower safety, and wind economics.
Students in these 1-year (basic) and 2-year (advanced) programs will be prepared for rewarding and profitable careers in this industry. There is no state residence requirement for veterans to attend this program.
For more information, contact Tracy Roscoe (Navy and Army veteran), director of wind energy training . email@example.com.
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