By Kristin Fox
Whether it has been to help construct a building, work at a local food bank, or help out with one of Franklin’s festivals, the LBJ Job Corps has always had a strong presence in the community.
Like so many other things, the COVID pandemic had an effect on the center and many may wonder about its existence. The local Job Corps recently held an open house to let the community know that the center is still here and once again alive with student activity.
The Job Corps is a government residential education and job-training program for low income at-risk young people aged 16-24. The program is funded by Congress and administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. The goal of the Job Corps program is to teach young people academic and vocational skills needed for employment. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson created the Job Corps program as a part of his War on Poverty and Great Society domestic reforms.
“Years ago, LBJ was a major part of the community then COVID happened, the students left and for all intents and purposes we disappeared as if we vanished off the map,” said Keith Bowers, Liaison Specialist for LBJ Job Corps Center. “We want to get back to those days when we were out in the community. We are still here and ready to help out in the community.”
In March 2020, due to the pandemic across the country, the Department of Labor thought it would be safest to send all students home and transition the center into a virtual program. All programs from the career preparation period to the trades and education classes were transitioned into virtual classes. The students were sent home with Chromebooks to participate from home; however, because of this transition, the center lost a lot of students along the way.
In April 2021, the center started bringing back a limited number of students. Currently, the center has 60 students on center and is building back up to the point that there are only on campus students. Eventually when all final COVID restrictions are dropped, the center will operate with a 120-student capacity.
The majority of LBJ students are from inner city areas in Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh. LBJ also recruits from its “catchman” area in the southeast including Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. In addition, the center has taken students from all over the world such as world refugees from Africa and Burma.
Bowers stated the local center also hires students from Franklin and the surrounding areas. Local students can live in dorms or participate in the center’s nonresidential program in which they complete the training day and then go home.
The LBJ Job Corps has six vocations on centers including office administration, culinary arts, paint, welding, facility maintenance and brick masonry. When students come into the program they first complete the Career Preparation Period which is an orientation into the Job Corps program. Students then complete MyPace two weeks of online course work including aptitude tests, like & interests’ profiles and other assignments to help fit them to the right trade and also what career pathway they want to go on once they graduate from the Job Corps.
The career pathways available for students are entry level jobs, military and college. In addition, the Job Corps has advanced training at programs all across America. Students can learn their basic trade at LBJ and then go somewhere else to advance those skills and receive further training. The program also has apprenticeship opportunities such as working with the Forest Service.
“One major thing that has shifted over the last few years is the Forest Service integrating Job Corps centers into the regular Forest Service creating new apprenticeship opportunities for students,” said Bowers. “Since LBJ is a Job Corps located on Forest Service land we can send students to Forest Service internships called Public Land Corps.”
As a part of the Public Land Corps program, students work for at least 640 hours working at a Forest Service site. Once these students are in the internship program for 16 weeks they earn a Public Land Corps certificate which allows for non-competitive hiring into the Federal Government, taking out the six month hiring process. According to Bowers, LBJ has been able to place several students right into Forest Service jobs
The Job Corps program is overseen by the Department of Labor Education and Training Administration. Todd Doolittle, who has over 28 years’ experience with the Forest Service and has worked in most of the areas of the Job Corps, is currently the LBJ Center Director.
There are 120 Job Corps centers nationwide with four located in North Carolina. Like LBJ, Oconaluftee, located in Cherokee, and Schenck, located in Brevard, Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers, are operated under the Forest Service. Kittrell Job Corps Center located in Vance County north of Raleigh is the fourth Job Corps in the state.
“Oconaluftee and Schenck are our sister centers, and we work together as much as we can,” said Bowers. “Some trades overlap but there are many trades opportunities at those centers that we don’t offer at LBJ. Students can most likely find a trade they are interested in at any of the three centers in western North Carolina.”
Oconaluftee offers nursing, forestry, electrical, construction and facility maintenance. Schenck offers programs in culinary arts, auto mechanics, welding, carpentry, office administration, facility maintenance and advanced firefighting.
“I believe the future is bright for the Job Corps program,” said Bowers. “I felt LBJ was close to closing in 2019, but fortunately Congress stepped in and reallocated the program. Over the last two years, the Job Corps program has been under the direction of new Chief Randy Moore who is committed to the Job Corps program. In addition, the program received a ton of community support.”
“The Job Corps program is a great program,” he added. “You see students grow and change. You see hope. You see students learn consequences and social skills.”
“We are changing people and teaching them to function,” said Bowers. “I hope the public learns more about our program. We are a hidden hope; one I hope that those in need hear more about.”