Profiles: Northlands Job Corps in Vergennes

VERGENNES —  Northlands Job Corps in Vergennes has long been both a significant employer and an educational resource for Addison County residents. This year has been an important one for strengthening the school’s community connection, said Ron Dedrick, the business community liaison and work-based learning coordinator at Job Corps.
Dedrick said he joined the team this year, with the goal of “trying to re-integrate (Job Corps) into the local community.”
Job Corps is a national program run by the U.S. Department of Labor that was started 50 years ago as a means of combating poverty. Northlands Job Corps in Vergennes is one of 125 such government-owned locations, where income-eligible young people, age 16-24, have the opportunity to learn a trade for free. The centers are run by independent contractors; Northlands is managed by CHP International and overseen by the Boston Regional Office of Job Corps. Tony Staynings is the center director at Northlands.
Upon arrival, students begin the “career preparation phase,” where they practice the skills transferrable across all trades, including so-called “soft skills,” such as how to interact with coworkers, and becoming CPR certified.
Job Corps also offers students the unique opportunity to test-drive careers. There is instruction in nine trades offered at Northlands —auto technology, collision repair, business technology, certified medical assistant, culinary arts, carpentry, facilities maintenance, welding and urban forestry. At the end of the career preparation phase, students get to visit three different departments to shadow students and ask questions in order find the best fit for them.
In the job market, “a lot of people get thrown in, chewed up, and spit back out,” said George McKenzie, the student government president at Northlands. Job Corps’ training in both soft and hard skills helps students succeed in the workplace after graduation, McKenzie said.
McKenzie, a native of Newark, N.J., has been a student at Job Corps since January. He said he is studying automotive technology because he hopes that this skill set will offer him some job security in a world dependent on cars. He is also an active student leader on campus; as student government president he has helped make Job Corps’ prom at the Vergennes Opera House a success.
“It’s been a great experience for me so far,” McKenzie said of his time in Vergennes.
The Job Corps program receives praise from faculty, too.
“The thing I like about the program is the options that students have,” said Jim Blanchard, a welding instructor at Northlands. “It gives students a great advantage.”
Blanchard brings 40 years of professional welding experience to the job, and is one of approximately 120 employees at Northlands Job Corps.
Another strength of Job Corps, said Blanchard, is that “we align our students going out into the industry with employers.”
Blanchard listed numerous institutions of higher education or job sites where  Job Corps graduates have moved on to, including a diesel training facility in Utah, a welding facility in New Jersey, and technical jobs everywhere from the Champlain Ferries to the far reaches of the country.
In addition to being an educational resource, Job Corps also benefits the Addison County community through its role as an employer, said Dedrick. In addition to its large workforce, maintenance to the buildings and infrastructure supports local contractors.
Job Corps students frequently volunteer in the community as well, said Dedrick. Students in the culinary program spent the weekend of June 21 preparing food for the city’s junior fishing derby. Urban forestry students maintain several area cemeteries. Across all programs, Job Corps students volunteer at the Vergennes Opera House.
“We try to reinforce hard work and volunteerism. There’s a lot going on here, and unfortunately that doesn’t all filter out to the community. We’re trying to build that information flow,” said Dedrick.
Other goals for the upcoming years include increasing the number of Vermont students at Job Corps, strengthening connections with area high schools, and collaborating with local businesses to help students receive real-world training, according to Dedrick.
“Students come out of here pretty well rounded,” Dedrick concluded.

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