Ben wanted to pursue a college education, but couldn’t afford the tuition. That all changed when he enrolled in a state-run Idaho Job Corps program which focuses on helping low-income youth obtain higher education or on-the-job training.
“I’ve always been interested in chemistry and I never would have been able to afford college if I hadn’t come here,” Ben said. “I’m going for a chemistry degree at the College of Western Idaho, and I’m going to finish my degree at Boise State or BYU.“
Ben enrolled in Idaho’s new state-run Job Corps program thanks to a three-year, $17.7 million U.S. Department of Labor grant to the Idaho Department of Labor, which restructured the program and now manages the Nampa facility.
“Our goal is to provide every student with a job and an hourly living wage of at least $16 by the time they graduate,” said Labor Director Jani Revier. “Depending on individual needs, students can enroll in the program for anywhere between three to 24 months.”
Joining Ben are 44 more students who are currently enrolled in the program. Twenty-six more will start Wednesday, Feb. 5. Idaho Job Corps Manager Tina Polishchuk, Ed.D., expects enrollment to reach 150 students by the end of 2020.
Idaho Job Corps staff are recruiting students by contacting high school counselors, social service agencies, through word of mouth, social media and by offering free campus tours on Wednesdays. Plans are for the pilot program to expand during years two and three by engaging in partnerships with community colleges in Twin Falls, Idaho Falls and Coeur d’Alene.
“We plan to serve an additional 50 students at each remote location, starting with the College of Southern Idaho and North Idaho College,” said Polishchuk. “Our goal is to have finalized agreements by the end of February.”
Each student receives a “wrap around” suite of services that sets them up for success in the workplace and in life. For income-eligible students ages 16-24, a long list of services is available – from tuition assistance to pursue a college education at the CWI, to hands-on career training, caseworker support, health care, meals, mental health counseling and more.
“The wrap-around services surround students with a supportive atmosphere where anything is possible,” Polishchuk said.
At least that’s the department’s goal – to inspire youth to learn and find a job with a livable wage in a field they enjoy.
Removing barriers or obstacles that prevent students from finishing their education is one of the first things caseworkers focus on, Polishchuk said. Barriers may include mental health issues, poverty or transportation issues. The center can also help students finish high school or obtain a GED.
“A lot of the students didn’t even know they’re eligible for college,” Polishchuk said. “They didn’t know they were college material. Once they learn they can go to college if they want, some of them just blossom.”
During their first three weeks in the program, students focus on career exploration. Those students who aren’t sure what they want to do take a skills assessment, which helps them identify and zero in on their interests.
Idaho Job Corps staff are also actively recruiting businesses and corporations willing to provide on-the-job training, internships, apprenticeships and job shadowing opportunities.
So far, popular fields of study include certified nursing assistants, carpentry, business accounting, and apprenticeships in plumbing, HVAC and electrical fields.
“The partnership between the Idaho Job Corps program and the College of Western Idaho has broadened the choices. All they have to do is apply themselves,” said John Russ, an onsite assistant director for CWI. “We’re trying to provide an environment that gives the students the best possible scenario for success.”
CWI’s entire catalog of classes is available to the students. If five or more Job Corps students want to take the same class, a CWI teacher or professor will teach it on site.
Three hours of community service each week allows students to think about life beyond their own experience. One recent activity included playing bingo with Nampa senior citizens. Another involved a shop class building beds for children in need for the nonprofit, . “When we give back to others, they see the value that brings,” Polishchuk said. “It gives students hope.”
Zach – another new Job Corps enrollee – agreed. He was taking classes at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Oregon, and had to drop out because he too couldn’t afford tuition costs. After he was accepted into the Idaho Job Corps program, he qualified for tuition assistance and today, is pursuing an associate degree in information technology at CWI.
“It’s a great opportunity that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” Zach said.
— Steve Stuebner for the Idaho Department of Labor