Monday, January 11, 2016

Thank You for Pointing the Way

At a recent JobTrain graduation our keynote speaker, Supervisor Warren Slocum, shared a story that really resonated with our students.  As a young adult he felt he was headed nowhere.  He had no plans to continue on in school, few dreams and wasn’t sure where he might end up.  His friends were not leading him to make good choices.  The turning point came when he found a mentor, someone who believed in his potential.  His road to success started there, and he likened his experience to the students who find a pathway through JobTrain.

You would think in a community where the unemployment rate is so low, an organization dedicated to helping people find a career path would not be needed.  The theory is that those who want a job can find a job.  The trouble is, they can’t afford to stop at just one job.  Most need two or even three jobs (if they are paid minimum wage) to afford to live in our communities.  Real career paths, with a living wage, are a part of the solution to this growing problem and one of the few that can be self-sustaining over time.  And yet, without someone at the crossroads who can offer an alternative, people on this road often end up at a dead end.  For others even minimum wage jobs are not an option.  Many people reach their crossroads and don’t find a mentor or role model.  Some have had issues with the law, with addiction, with homelessness, others have no money to pay for an education or have no work experience.  For them, the path leads nowhere.

For 50 years, JobTrain has stood in the crossroads, offering people a different road.  Every day, I see the faces of people who are tired but determined, people who have made a choice to change their lives by coming to JobTrain.  Determination is needed because the choice means very hard work, not only during the day in the classroom or in job search, but in the evening taking care of loved ones, and usually holding down a minimum wage job.  It can mean sleeping on someone’s couch, in the park, or traveling hours to get to class.

If I had to use words to describe our students, they would be: quietly heroic.  They don’t wear their troubles on their sleeves, but I’d challenge most people to get up in the morning carrying the load they carry.
The staff of JobTrain are also my heroes, because they too carry a big load.  Like many employed by nonprofits, they work hard and long and are challenged by trying to live in a community that, to say the least, is not priced for a nonprofit salary.  They are determined to do everything they can to squeeze more people into classes and programs, in an attempt to shorten our ever growing waiting lists.  And every day I see the joy and satisfaction on their faces when someone in our community makes a great leap in learning, finds a great job, celebrates at a JobTrain graduation or goes on to college.  It never gets old.

However, in the final analysis, it all comes down to you, our dedicated Board, Strategic Advisory Committee, volunteers, community partners, supporters and friends, many of whom have made sure that JobTrain could be here at the crossroads for close to 190,000 people for over 50 years.  You are responsible for thousands of families who were inspired by success, who went on to become not only employees, but employers and whose children and grandchildren became graduates themselves.

Your community needed you.  You stood at the crossroads and pointed the way.  You still do, supporting JobTrain with your time, your donations and your wisdom.

Thank you is totally inadequate.  But you should be very proud.

Nora Sobolov
President and CEO, JobTrain

Monday, July 6, 2015

More than a Counselor blog series: #3 - Choosing the Right Path

In Month 3 of the More than a Counselor blog series, Holly Hanson, career counselor and job developer for JobTrain’s construction training programs, Project Build and Laborers Construction Fundamentals, speaks to her work with a student who previously attended community college.

As the counselor that works with students learning the trade in an industry considered non-traditional in Silicon Valley, I generally see the same type of individuals – those who didn’t follow a traditional path in life, according to society’s rules. Then one day I met with a new student, Tony, who was interested in the construction courses at JobTrain and yet had previously been following a more traditional track.

Tony wasn’t like one of my typical students upon first impression. He was only 19 when I met him (but mature for his age), a high school graduate and had no criminal background. When I asked him why he wanted to be in construction, this is the story he told me: “I was raised by my sister who always kept me on the right path in life, always telling me that I need to be the first in my family to go to college.” So he did.  Right after high school graduation, Tony enrolled in community college. However, one year into college, his sister fell on hard times and couldn’t provide the stable living environment he needed to succeed in college. Tony essentially became homeless, moving from one couch to the next.  He knew he had to find a way to earn a living because now it was “my turn to care for my sister”.  He needed to put college on hold for now and find a fast track to a solid career. His friend suggested JobTrain and I told him he came to the right place.

Now I don’t want to give the wrong impression that this young man shouldn’t go to college.  However sometimes the path to success is not in the order you expect it to be. I sat down with Tony to create a career path that would start in construction and lead him back to college. Today, he is on his re-directed path to success – working a union construction job, supporting his sister and pursuing construction management courses in the evening. He checks in regularly with me and tells me all the exciting and challenging things that are going on in his life. When I tell him that I will always help him if he gets stuck along the way, he says “I know – you’re like my sister." 

Monday, June 15, 2015

More than a Counselor blog series: #2 - Re-entry Client

In Month 2 of the More than a Counselor blog series, Holly Hanson, career counselor and job developer for JobTrain’s construction training programs, shares a story about one of her students who is re-entering the workforce after being previously incarcerated.

Today I’d like to talk about one of my students named Chris.  He was like many of my other students – in his early 30s, from a disadvantaged neighborhood, and spending his life in and out of prisons.  When I first met Chris, we had a long conversation about what he wanted out of life.  He shared with me how he had just finished a 4-year prison sentence and how tired he was – tired of his life on the street and needing to make a change for his kids.

I hear this often but there was something different about Chris.  In spite of his background, he was calm, sincere and was willing to ask me (someone he just met) for help.  As a student at JobTrain, he definitely struggled as school is a big adjustment compared to the instant gratification of the streets, but he stuck with it.  I could tell that in spite of his past experiences, he had a core of being thoughtful and genuine that naturally surfaced.

We had many conversations about him struggling with change.  He had no support at home and many times wanted to quit.  I told him I couldn’t let him quit and that as long as he kept coming to training, I would be his support.  I said, “Let’s prove them wrong.”  That was the first time I ever saw him smile.

So why was this student so different from all the others?  Because I didn’t get the chance to finish helping him.  Two months ago in April 2015, he was gunned down at a party by a jealous man over a girl. Lives wasted.  As I sit here at his funeral, wearing all white at the request of his family, I can’t help but think, my students are, in a sense, my family and family is important to help anyway we can.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Helping Those Who Are Most In Need To Succeed

If someone gave a grant of nearly three quarters of a million dollars to a group of families in East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park who are struggling the most financially, that would be big news!  What if those same families, instead of receiving a grant, were empowered to claim over $700,000 that was rightfully theirs?  I think that is even bigger news!

We are extremely proud to announce the results of the hard work done by JobTrain's Tax-Aid staff and volunteers.  It is wonderful synergy that these results, and an award from the IRS to JobTrain for completing the most tax returns in San Mateo County, have come out just about the same time as Warren Buffett's comments about the earned income tax credit were published in the Wall Street Journal.  

As Mr. Buffett succinctly points out, the gap between rich and poor is growing hopelessly wider as an unintended consequence of our market system, and he is clear that it is "neither the fault of the market system nor the fault of the disadvantaged individuals."  So the challenge is how do we continue to grow and develop our economy and build in a course correction so that we don't unknowingly create such a big gap in the standard of living that it undermines the success we are achieving?

For 50 years now, JobTrain has been a pathway for what Mr. Buffett proposes as an achievable "American Promise: America will deliver a decent life for anyone willing to work."  Many thousands of people over the years have come to JobTrain (formerly OICW) not just for free tax assistance but also for learning a skill, acquiring a GED, learning English, discovering how to more effectively market themselves – in short, making themselves employable. Training and education must be the first effort at breaking the cycle of poverty and JobTrain's free training programs – from construction to culinary, high tech to entry level health and medical careers, and business administration – are able to meet the interests of many people who have found the job market to be more than challenging.  Success truly does happen here as people with significant barriers to employment are clearing those hurdles and moving into the ranks of the gainfully employed.  For many of our graduates, the training they receive here at JobTrain is enough to command more than a minimum wage job.  Others who start at minimum wage often find themselves advancing quickly because their JobTrain education taught them not only their new specific trade or technical skill but also a host of soft skills, from goal setting to problem solving, customer service, and improved communication skills applicable in any work environment.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, we all know it is almost impossible to live on minimum wage, so the earned income tax credit (EITC) is a great help as these newly employed workers move their way up the ladder.

At JobTrain we believe in the dignity and the potential of every human being, and we have seen that applying our unique blend of training and services not only benefits the individual participants, but also has a return on investment back to society.  In the 2013/2014 fiscal year, with a budget of $6 Million dollars, JobTrain's Return on Investment to thecommunity was almost $13 Million dollars.  

As they received evidencethat the EITC has lifted millions of people out of poverty, Congress recently extended improvements to the EITC into 2017.  We wholeheartedly support Mr. Buffett's call to expand the EITC, increase efforts to stop fraud, and ensure that those who qualify get the information and help they need to benefit from this important aspect of our tax code.

Steven Schmidbauer
Chief Operating Officer, JobTrain

Thursday, April 23, 2015

More than a Counselor blog series: #1 - Meet Holly Hanson

Meet Holly Hanson, career counselor and job developer for JobTrain’s construction training programs, Project Build and Laborers Construction Fundamentals. Holly provides students with one-on-one career counseling and job placement assistance to ensure their success. However, her work goes beyond counseling, career placement and a 9-to-5 schedule. She is a mentor and is available to her students for just about anything.  For the next 8 months, Holly is going to share stories about her work with different students so you can have a better understanding of JobTrain’s students and the impact JobTrain’s work has on their lives.

In this first blog post, Holly shares the story of her work with a single father in Project Build.

Mike was unemployed and came to the Unemployment Development Department, located at JobTrain’s offices, to file for unemployment. It was during this meeting that he first learned about JobTrain’s free vocational training classes and decided to enroll. I first met with Mike at orientation and he shared with me that he had previously attended vocational training offered by another organization.  He was now $30,000 in debt and still had no job.  The previous training had promised him a job at the end of his training, but when he graduated he found that there was little to no demand for the position he had trained for. Mike is a single father so to support his daughter he took a job as a security guard. Unfortunately, he was barely making ends meet and then to make it worse, his work hours were reduced.

Mike was determined not to fail his daughter. When I met with him for our first one-on-one session, I knew that he would be a great candidate for Project Build because he was organized, punctual and thoughtful about his future. I also connected him to our on-site child development center so that his 4-year-old daughter had a safe place to be while he attended classes. Shortly after he enrolled in the program, I noticed that he was struggling to maintain focus in the class. I asked Mike to meet with me to see if he was okay. Mike then shared that the mother of his child is an alcoholic and abuses alcohol in the presence of their child. He was in the process of helping her enter a treatment facility. Mike explained, “My child needs her mother whether we are together or not. My daughter deserves to have two parents.”

Mike is a good student despite his personal struggles with single parenting. We continue to have regular check-ins to see which unions he has researched and applied for as well as regular updates on how he and his daughter are doing.  I love seeing him and his daughter leave together after school.  The true happiness I see on their faces shows that despite Mike’s stress, he never lets it affect his ability to be a good father.

Stay tuned for next month’s blog post on Holly’s work with a student who was previously incarcerated and looking to start a new chapter in his life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

JobTrain to Offer Free Coding Class Beginning April 6th

Beginning on April 6, 2015, JobTrain will offer a free 4-month Coding Class designed to give students practical, real world skills to help prepare them for entry-level jobs in the technology sector.  JobTrain is a local nonprofit job training and placement center with extensive experience serving a diverse and dynamic population and works closely with technology companies throughout the Bay Area to ensure that program content matches employer needs.
The class will include a mixture of lecture, class discussion, special projects, and guest speakers.  Students will also complete a portfolio that they can use to show potential employers what they have learned.  The curriculum will include: Introduction to Computer Science, Fundamentals of HTML, Introduction to CSS, Introduction to JavaScript, and Ruby on Rails.
This will be a full-time, 16-week course and includes JobTrain’s Essential Skills classes which cover such topics as problem solving, customer service, budgeting, and goal setting.  JobTrain’s comprehensive “whole person” approach to student success, also includes counseling, supportive services, and job placement.  This course will cover content from several CaƱada College courses and students will receive college credits and start a transcript, providing them with a pathway to further educational opportunities.
For more information about this class, please call Lacey Padgett at (650) 330-6418 or email:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Your "LIKE" Matters! Show Your Love for JobTrain on Facebook!

Cupcakes for EVERYONE, if we reach our goal!

Tell your family and friends to
 “LIKE” JobTrain on Facebook today at
Come by JobTrain for a FREE Valentine's Day Cupcake on 
Friday, February 13th beginning at 12:00 noon! (while supplies last)