Sept. 11 2018 12:00 AM

Lessons are learned about life, along with job skills.

The green industry labor crisis has many contractors wondering where their future landscape workforce is going to come from. According to an article published in the Albany Herald, your local Job Corps facility may have a good pool of young workers being trained in landscaping techniques and tools. Better still, they've chosen that track from a variety of vocational choices.

Alijah Mace, 20, is one of them. “I’ve had the opportunity to explore other clusters, other trades; I just happen to like landscaping best,” Mace said. “Getting this kind of real-world experience lets me know what it’s really like working for a living.”

Job Corps works with people aged 16 to 24. Some students join to earn high school equivalency diplomas; others, to get vocational training. And some use the program as a stepping stone to college.

Melvin Drake, business community liaison and work-based learning coordinator at Turner Job Corp in Albany, Georgia, says that people have misconceptions about Job Corps students.

“I don’t know where or when it started, but Albany has always thought Turner Job Corps students were the problem kids, that they were sent there as a punishment,” said Drake, a former Albany High School basketball star. “But nothing could be farther from the truth.”

“The kids who are in our programs must go through a federal background check, a drug screening and be fingerprinted. We help prepare these students to take their place in the work force.”

Recently, a group from TJC’s landscaping trades cluster gave one of the four “Welcome to Albany” signs a total facelift. They cut the tall grass surrounding the sign and removed weeds and trash. The Job Corp group transformed the former eyesore into an eye-catching sight.

Having the opportunity to work on real-life projects does more than teach the TJC students about a specific trade, Drake says. “The students have the opportunity to clock in and out, to learn the proper way to wear their uniforms, to take their lunch breaks during assigned times."

“We’re just one of the best-kept secrets around. For instance, Jean Williams, who has been our landscaping instructor for 18 years and does an amazing job, instructs the students on how to keep up the 200 acres around our facilities as well as other projects like the welcome signs.”

Demar Walker, 21, came to the Albany Job Corps facility from South Carolina and is preparing to move on to advanced training in Missouri. He said working on the Albany welcome sign and other projects has helped him and his fellow students learn how to prepare for specific projects.

“We know what questions to ask about the job so that when we show up, we have the right equipment,” Walker said. “I selected this cluster because I like working outside. Yeah, it gets hot, but I don’t mind.”

“We have eight career success standards at Job Corps: workplace relations and ethics, personal growth and development, information management, independent living, multicultural awareness, interpersonal skills, career and personal planning and communication,” Drake says. “But we also have a motto that we take very seriously: Let’s do this.”