When Jennah Bennett enrolled in classes at the Inland Empire Job Corps Center she was skeptical.
Her life skills were minimal and the prospect of taking classes at the center seemed daunting.
“When I got here I didn’t have health insurance, and I’d never even gone out and bought my own pair of shoes,” the 20-year-old Victorville resident said.
The process has been a big turnaround for Bennett, who now says she has dreams of running her own food truck and becoming a personal chef to Hollywood celebrities. She was initially nervous about the Job Corps program but eventually grew into it.
Bennett, who started the program last November and should finish in September, has tapped into the center’s career-skills training, housing, meals, healthcare and job-search assistance
“You have to learn to move with it,” she said. “And when I did that I started to see myself soar.”
The services are available for low-income students at the corp’s San Bernardino location, one of seven centers in California. Others are in Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose and San Francisco.
The US Department of Labor program has a Job Corps recruitment drive underway in California with immediate openings. It’s part of a nationwide effort to restore Job Corps campuses to full capacity after COVID-19 safety measures restricted enrollments because of the program’s housing component.
Suzanne Schaeffer, the San Bernardino center’s director, said her team is always watching the job market, shifting to meet workforce demands with new training programs. We asked her to share more about the center and how it works. Schaeffer’s answers have been edited for space considerations.
Q: Which training programs tend to be the most sought-after among students and why?
A: Today, we offer training in 10 high-growth industry sectors, including automotive, construction, finance, healthcare, homeland security, hospitality, information technology, advanced manufacturing, renewable resources and transportation.
Q: How long do the training programs last?
A: Students have up to two years to complete the program, but the amount of time it takes them to complete varies. Some trades take longer than others to complete. If they need a high school diploma, it can take them a little longer.
Students will typically spend anywhere between 12 to 18 months with us before they complete their requirements for graduation. But, even after that, we stay in touch with them. Job Corps offers transitional support and job-search assistance for up to a full year after graduation. This is all at no cost to the student, and that is a huge benefit for our students.
Q: You’re looking to restore Job Corps campuses to full capacity after pandemic safety measures restricted enrollments. What kind of downturn have these campuses faced during COVID-19?
A: The pandemic essentially emptied our campuses in March of 2020, and then we shifted to distance learning later in the spring, like every other school. But unlike a lot of other schools, Job Corps has a residential component. Most of our students live on campus. So, the pandemic hit us harder. Even schools without a residential component, like K-12 or community college, have struggled with enrollment coming out of the pandemic.
The pandemic forced us to be more nimble with our training programs, offering more distance learning and virtual enrollment. Those have been positive changes for our students and for the program. We’ve seen a big uptick in our enrollment in recent months. We recently started holding weekly in-person tours again. This allows applicants and their family members to see, in person, where the applicant would be living and what their life would be like in the next few months while they train.
Q: How many students are you looking to recruit through this drive, and how long will the drive be going on?
A: We expect the recruitment drive to continue through the summer and close at the end of September, but it will continue as long as there is space for new enrollees. All 121 Job Corps campuses will be holding Signing Day celebrations throughout the summer and early fall, culminating in a program-wide week of ceremonies the week of Sept. 26-30 to honor summer enrollees who joined the program during the current recruitment drive.
How to apply
Applicants ages 16-24 can qualify for the program if they receive benefits through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs, or if they get a free or reduced school lunch or are experiencing homelessness or are in foster care.
Those looking to enroll can begin the process at jobcorps.gov/recruiting/enrollment-interest.
Job Corps also provides transitional support services, including help finding employment, housing, childcare and transportation.
Organization: Inland Empire Job Corps Center in San Bernardino
Residence: Currently lives on the center’s campus
Education: Completed ServeSafe certification in her culinary training program at the center where she is a sous chef lead. She got on-the-job training at Camp Edwards in Redlands, a YMCA camp where she worked with more than 300 children and assisted in providing daily meals
Previous jobs: Worked at a Stater Bros. supermarket in San Bernardino County
Five things to know about student Jennah Bennett
Graduated from an arts-focused high school
Loves cooking all sorts of food, especially enjoys baking
Reads and plays games in every spare time
Is applying for advanced training and wants to be a chef for Hollywood celebrities and open her own food truck