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The City of Mendota is a small, ag-based community where many residents depend on seasonal work. In a community with a median household income of about $36,300, Fresno EOC is hoping to expand opportunities for the local workforce.On May 20, Fresno EOC Valley Apprenticeship Connections (VAC) held a graduation ceremony for those who completed its recent pilot program in the City of Mendota. The program consisted of a free, but intense 12-week job training for adults interested in a career in the construction industry.The program, which operates out of Fresno, has seen great success. In 2019, the VAC program placed 85% of participants who completed the training in Fresno into careers in the construction industry, with an average starting wage of $20 per hour.

Gilbert Guzman is one of three students who graduated from the recent pilot program. He lives in the City of Firebaugh, about a 15-minute drive from Mendota. The Fresno State grad says he earned a degree in criminology in 2019, but has struggled to land a job as a probation officer. In early 2022, a flyer about the VAC program caught his eye. “I have always had an interest in home renovations. So, this gave me the opportunity to learn about the construction trade. I want to get into a career instead of a seasonal, or part-time job.”

VAC Facilitator Micke Hughes says Gilbert was always attentive in class, very punctual, consistently scored high on his exams, and his future looks bright. “The positive impact this program can have is that it can get people into high-paying jobs, and they won’t have to worry about living paycheck to paycheck. In addition, it puts you in a position to provide for your whole family, as well as earning medical and retirement benefits.”

This 12-week pilot program was held at the Mendota City Yard. Trainees received in-class instruction as well as job site experience. They had the opportunity to learn about demolition work, plastering, and how to build gravel pit boxes. In addition, they graduated with nine certifications, including first aid, work zone safety, flagging, hazardous waste, OSHA 10, and blueprint reading.

The training also teaches soft skills. Micke says, “Our classroom curriculum is called “Thinking for a Change.” And that’s exactly what it is. It teaches lessons based on social and work interactions, from how to negotiate to conflict resolution. So, what we try our very best to do is guide the mindset of the students in a positive way, so they know how to conduct themselves in the workplace and in life. We not only help students find a job but learn how to maintain it and grow as well. So, this program is a life-changer.”

Gilbert says, “It feels great because I am a strong believer that knowledge is power, and if I can learn more skills and have hands-on experience, that just makes me more competitive in the job market. Plus, getting the certifications will help immensely with job opportunities.”

This pilot project, funded by the State of California’s Department of Community Services and Development, is allowing Fresno EOC VAC to examine what it will take to expand and launch future VAC trainings in rural communities.

VAC is accepting applications for its next cohort in Fresno, which starts June 21. Trainees must have reliable transportation, must be at an 8th grade level for reading and math, and they must be at least 18 years old. For more information about the VAC Program, call (559) 263-1110.

About Fresno EOC Valley Apprenticeship Connections (VAC)Fresno EOC Valley Apprenticeship Connections (VAC) supports the hiring needs of our Central Valley’s construction contractors. VAC students are immersed in an intense 12-week training program to prepare them for the workforce. The program includes a Monday-Friday schedule from 7am to 3pm, hands-on training at job sites, a personal journey of self-evaluation, behavioral change curriculum, soft skill attainment, daily physical education, and construction math. Trainees will also have meet-and-greet introductions with trade unions, including the Associated Builders and Contractors. In addition, random drug testing will occur twice during the training.

Click here to read more about the VAC cohort in Mendota in GV Wire.

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