Despite the pandemic, the federal Job Corps program continues to provide free education for disadvantaged youth, ages 16 to 24, at its 123 campuses throughout the United States, including the Edison Job Corps Center in Middlesex County. 

Although some of the hands-on vocational training activities have been temporarily restricted, the commitment to improve the education and skills of its at-risk students is moving forward. During the earlier days of the pandemic, the Job Corps acquired more than 25,000 Chromebooks to serve its students around the country, and 10,951 students were placed in jobs, apprenticeship programs, the military, or continuing education between March 1 and Nov. 30, 2020, Job Corps officials report. 

The Job Corps program has remained strong for the past 55 years, its leaders maintain, because it stays true to its core values, that all students have the potential to succeed, and that given proper training and a chance, they can become contributing, self-supporting members of society.  

“The Job Corps changes the lives of young people. As a new board member, I have learned about the amazing work it does, and I am honored to be associated with the program,” said NJSBA Executive Director Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, who at the beginning of this year was named to the Board of Directors of the National Job Corps Association following a nationwide search. 

Feinsod’s service with the national Job Corps is an extension of the NJSBA’s commitment to providing education to career-focused students, explored in depth in the Association’s 2018 task force report, Educational Opportunities for the Non-College Bound Learner

Pete Calvo, president of the Glassboro Board of Education in Gloucester County, also serves as president of Horizons Youth Services, an organization that operates Job Corps centers around the country for the U.S. Department of Labor. 

Strong Traditions: George Foreman, Sargent Shriver  In a recent interview, Calvo cited the strong traditions of the program, providing photos of one of its most famous graduates, the boxer George Foreman, being honored in the 1960s by President Lyndon Johnson. Calvo also provided a photo of the program’s founder, Sargent Shriver, posing with some of the program’s initial graduates. Since its inception in 1964, the Job Corps has served more than 1.9 million young people.   

Even though the program’s traditions go back decades, the need for the Job Corps is as strong as it has ever been, Calvo said. 

“The Job Corps provides hope and purpose to thousands of students who, without help from the program, might have a hard time finding their way in life,” said Calvo. “Guidance counselors should explore how the program can help at-risk students in their districts.”  

Byron V. Garrett, president and chief executive officer of the National Job Corps Association, said in an interview that the program, which receives about $1.7 billion in federal funding, has bi-partisan support in Congress. He is hopeful, he said, that the needs of the Job Corps will continue to be met in the year ahead. 

In a typical year, the program serves about 60,000 students, with most being of color and from low-income backgrounds, Garrett said. 

In COVID times, underemployment or unemployment across the country is sky high,” Garrett said. The program provides students with the foundations of literacy they will need to be successful in life, and at the same time, “they learn skills that are in demand in their local areas.” 

Lonnie Hall, director of the Edison Job Corps Center, said the program is poised to resume its hands-on training and mentoring at the center just as soon as the pandemic subsides and health officials give the green light.  

“We are still in operation,” Hall said, with about 300 students taking classes remotely. During normal times, more than 400 students live and work on the Edison campus. They can earn a degree, will be taught a trade, and they also learn the “soft skills” they will need in the workforce – how to dress properly, how it’s important to show up on time. In short, the Job Corps teaches students how to be responsible, successful citizens.  

Learn More  In addition to providing hands-on career technical training in high-growth industries, students can earn a GED or high school diploma.  Guidance counselors in New Jersey can find out more from the Job Corps recruitment website or by contacting Hall at the Edison Center. Hall can be reached at (732) 393-3501 or by email at hall.lonnie@jobcorps.org

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