Million dollar grant helps underserved students

The Workforce Equity Initiative is providing opportunities for undeserved communities.

“This training program has tremendously changed my life, it’s basically a big career enhancement, the program has given me the initiative to expand my career into more opportunities,” says Markeese Howard, a recent graduate of the WEI here at JJC.

The goal of the WEI is to provide job training in high demand, high growth industries for underrepresented and underserved populations. At least 60 percent of the participants in the initiative must be African American, and program coordinators say they won’t have a problem meeting that requirement.

The $1.2 million state grant covers training in seven careers: commercial truck driver, dental assistant, HVAC technician, industrial maintenance technician, phlebotomy technician, process operator technician, and warehouse associate.

The goal of the WEI is to train up to 200 area residents in a full-time career that pays 30 percent above the average living wage.

Howard, 24, was working in a warehouse making about $15 per hour. But after completing commercial truck driver training last December, within just one week of graduating Howard found a job driving a truck making about $24 per hour – a 60 percent jump in pay.

“The WEI is a life changing experience, for someone working for minimum wage, to get a new job that could triple their salary plus benefits, it is very impactful to their life.” Kevin Riley, training coordinator for the initiative now in its second year, said.

All expenses for the courses taught at JJC are 100 percent paid for including tuition, textbooks, and fees. Participants who qualify are also provided a bus pass, gas card, and financial stipend upon successful completion of training which takes anywhere from one to five months depending upon the program.

To help graduates land their first job, all participants also receive career placement help with resume preparation, interviewing skills, and job search strategies. The training coordinators keep in constant contact with the participants both during and after program completion.

Training Coordinator Chris Lester says this free training helps remove some of the barriers that citizens in minority populations face.

“Workforce equity is a very important consideration in our community. The consequences of unequal employment opportunities are far reaching, long lasting, and pervasive,” Lester said.

Howard summed up his new career training this way: “It’s better than living paycheck to paycheck.”

Those interested in the training initiative don’t have to be JJC students. The free classes are offered over the spring and summer.

You must first register for an information session to learn more including eligibility requirements by going to