Northlands Job Corps welcomes new leader

VERGENNES — Northlands Job Corps has a new interim director who after three weeks in Vergennes has already acted to address the center’s stagnant national rankings and Vergennes officials’ concerns about student behavior.
Jim Linday, 59, is a veteran of more than three decades with the federal job-training program for disadvantaged youth. He took over for former director Tony Staynings early in August. Staynings, according to officials of Alutiiq LLC, the company that contracts with the Department of Labor to operate Northlands, chose to move on after four years at the MacDonough Drive campus. 
“It is my understanding Tony Staynings is now working as an executive for another Job Corps contractor,” according to Northlands business and community liaison Ian McGaughey. “We wish him well and thank him for his service.”
Linday, who first began working as a Job Corps instructor in 1973 after graduating from his home-state University of Oregon, is Alutiiq’s Director of Outreach Admissions and Career Transition Services and had been working in the company’s Phoenix, Ariz., office.
At least in part because he has served as a director at Job Corps centers in Oregon, Massachusetts, Illinois and Georgia, Alutiiq asked Linday to work at least a three-month stint at Northlands, which can house up to 280 students.
Certainly, despite its issues, some things are going right at Northlands.
The number of its students who have gone on to take advanced training to prepare for higher-paying careers has increased steadily under its most recent operators: Alutiiq and ResCare Inc., which operated the center for five years before Alutiiq won a two-year contract a year ago. The two firms are related, and ResCare remained on site operating educational programming.
That number rose from five in the 12 months ending in July 2008, to 26 in the year ending in July 2011. Students moved on in the full spectrum of Northlands offerings: culinary arts, automobile mechanics and body work, business technologies, welding, facilities maintenance, urban forestry and licensed practical nursing.
“We’re probably one of the best centers in the country for sending students to advanced training,” Linday said in an interview with the Independent last week. 
Northlands youths also regularly perform community service. McGaughey provided a list of 30 acts of volunteerism by Job Corps students just since February, including setting up for Vergennes Opera House events, moving furniture for the Sweet Charity store, cleaning up along Otter and Dead creeks, removing unwanted trees in Shoreham and Vergennes, painting at the Bixby Library, and preparing and serving food at charitable occasions.
Other numbers are not so desirable. At the Aug. 23 city council meeting, City Manager Mel Hawley told aldermen that the city police department had responded more than 100 times to the center in the past two years.
Hawley noted those incidents did not include issues with Northlands students that occurred off its 64-acre campus, which have included trespassing, at least one assault, underage drinking and shoplifting.
“Those do not include calls to some store,” Hawley said. “It’s a large number.”
After the meeting, Mayor Michael Daniels said he, like other city officials, support the Job Corps concept, but believe the center needs better discipline. Daniels and Hawley delivered that message to Linday in a meeting earlier on Aug. 23.
“There’s a lot more they can do,” Daniels said.
Police Chief George Merkel was set to meet Linday on Aug. 26. Merkel said incidents have become more frequent in his two years on his city job.
“From the first six months I’ve gotten here to the last six months I’ve been here, the potential for serious incidents has gotten worse,” he said.
Merkel said he has enjoyed his dealings with students, and supports the program.
“I want to see all the kids come out of there with something they can use later in life,” he said.
But Merkel said at least a few students are causing problems.
“There is a group, however small or large it may be, that brings negative attention to the Job Corps,” he said.
Linday’s views on that issue are not far off from Merkel’s. Part of an extended orientation period he is installing will focus on community relations; he hopes Merkel will agree to be part of the presentation.
“Just as the staff … and myself … have to abide by the rules and the expectations of the community, the students do, too,” he said. “And I need to teach the students to do that.”
Linday also said he would sign a memorandum that Merkel had prepared outlining how Northlands security and city police should work together to handle incidents. Linday also said he believed things might have already improved.
“I can only speak for the last three weeks,” Linday said. “We’re meeting with the students every week, every Friday. We’ve hired a new Center Standards and Incentives Officer, and it’s my intention to sign this memorandum of understanding that was put together by the chief and his staff tomorrow … and ask them to help us do some training here with our security folks so they can work hand-in-hand.”
Linday said the new, longer orientation period — eight weeks, rather than four — would serve to weed out some problems. Job Corps centers contract out much of their recruiting, and although Linday said they conduct phone interviews with prospective students, there is no substitute for meeting them.
“They want to get out of the environment they’re in to come here, many for the opportunities, some for the not so positive,” he said. “We have to weed out the not-so-positives, identify those early on in the eight-week process, and then support the ones that want to be here and get something positive out of the program.”
Linday also pledged to listen to area officials and residents. He wants to hear if something is going wrong, and he is inviting one and all to a planned mid-September community relations committee meeting.
“We can sit down, introduce them to some students, introduce them to the staff, talk about the program, talk about Alutiiq, talk about the weather, whatever it is, but also get some feedback,” he said.
Linday has also acted to address other numbers that haven’t trended in the right direction. The Department of Labor ranks the nation’s 124 Job Corps centers on criteria that include how many students complete their training, find jobs in their field, and obtain high school diplomas or graduate equivalency degrees.
In 2007, Northlands stood at 66th. Between 2008 and 2010, its rankings ranged from 79th to 87th.
Linday said on Thursday Northlands latest ranking was 94th.
Among his actions has been bringing job placement in-house. The center’s 121 employees now include three new hires charged with finding its graduates work in their fields. Linday has also promoted some high performers within the ranks to help improve the center’s efforts.
“I’m not a miracle worker,” he said. “But I have enough resources within the company and the staff here to make changes, and we’re slowly making those changes.”
Linday believes the longer orientation period is another significant change. Alutiiq’s other five centers already had adopted the eight-week Career Prep Period, or CPP in Job Corps lingo, rather than Northlands’ previous four-week introduction.
“We provide the students everything they need to look for a job during that first eight weeks. We help them with getting a driver’s license. We help them decide whether it’s best to get a GED or a high school diploma, if that’s what they need,” Linday said. “We help them look at all the trades that we have here so they make an informed choice.”
Linday said the eight-week CPP also makes sure all Northlands students walk away with something useful even if they do not complete vocational training.
“They’re ready to look for a job. They have a résumé, they have interview skills. They are more prepared than when they came here to go out and find a job,” he said. 
Ultimately, Linday said Northlands will move up in the rankings by better fulfilling its mission.
“What holds the kids here is the program,” he said. “We have to provide them what they need here, and also need to deal with the students who don’t want to be here in a quick and efficient manner.”
Whether Linday sees a Vermont winter or more sun back in Arizona depends on the search for a permanent director who Alutiiq believes can keep the program moving in the right direction.
“We are advertising for somebody,” Linday said. “We need to find the right fit, not only for Alutiiq, but for the center.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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