Workers seek more opportunities, vocational training
by Alan J. McCombs, Staff Writer
U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis spoke to a crowd of Langley Park-area workers who said that although job training has opened up new opportunities for them, the market remains tough.
Solis participated in a May 30 roundtable at Casa of Maryland’s office and training center in Langley Park, where she spoke to workers who have gone through training and information sessions offered by Casa.
Casa, a nonprofit agency founded in 1985, works across the state with low-income and immigrant communities to provide a variety of services including instruction in English as a second language and job placement. Each year, the organization helps thousands find work and increasingly the organization has worked to provide skill training and longer-lasting jobs, said Tona Cravioto, who administers Casa’s vocational training program.
“We don’t think there is anything wrong with being a day laborer,” he said. “Education is tied 100 percent to better jobs, better salaries, better opportunities.”
The training offered by the agency was what drew Solis to Casa’s facility, she said.
“I wanted to see what makes this place go,” Solis said.
Solis spoke with about two dozen workers in both English and Spanish, took questions and responded to them in both languages. Topics included the job market and of the peril of working on unsafe job sites.
Solis stressed her department and Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in particular, were committed to insuring that all workers, regardless of immigration status, were entitled to a safe workplace.
“Our federal government protects all workers,” Solis said. “They can’t take advantage of this community, not just here but across the country.”
Solis praised Casa programs and those at community colleges and other institutions that offer training and skills to workers to make them more attractive in the job market. Courses at the center are heavily discounted and cost about $100 on average, Cravioto said.
Pedro Munoz, a Hyattsville resident who had a seat at the roundtable, said his life has changed since gaining a certificate in building maintenance engineering, which allows him to work on or supervise a variety of building improvements ranging from tiling to dry walling. Munoz began a three-month intensive course to get the certificate in late 2010, he said. After working as a carpenter in the day, he would go to Casa and for three hours every weekday night for hands-on lessons. Since gaining his certificate, the 45-year-old has launched his own maintenance business, Tower Ideas.
Now self-employed and working on jobs across the region, the married father of twin 14-year-olds said the long days were worth it.
“I have more money in my pocket, I have more money for my family,” said Munoz, who originally is from Mexico.
Almost half of the workers gathered said they still were looking for jobs even after taking training.
Fabien Nguekam, 66, of Hyattsville said he gained certificates in security work and building maintenance engineering through Casa, but remains out of work since losing a job at a Rockville furniture store in April.
The need for more jobs, however, was present on Solis’ mind, she said.
“One of the first things I hear every day is ‘jobs, more jobs,’” Solis said. “They’re coming back slowly, but they’re coming back.”