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Training Salvages the Jobless

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Larry Tripp, a 33-year-old repairman who had spent his life fixing almost any kind of home or office equipment, never expected to see the inside of a welfare office.

One look was enough.

His confidence eroding, unable to find steady work, struggling to rear two daughters after his wife’s death from cancer, Tripp was standing in line at the welfare office when he realized something: He was a jack of all trades--and master of none, a man with no particular job skills.

“My life was really crazy then, not being able to find work, trying to get over my wife’s death,” Tripp said. “And the welfare office, well, that didn’t help my self-esteem. Then things just changed for the better.”

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Tripp rebounded with the help of the Job Training Partnership Act, a federally funded job training and placement service administered by the San Diego Consortium & Private Industry Council.

The JTPA, established in 1982 to provide employees for private industry, replaced the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, which trained and placed unskilled workers in the public sector.

The San Diego consortium-council contracts with 42 local schools and community organizations to provide free job training and placement for disadvantaged youths and unemployed adults who face barriers to finding permanent employment. Those barriers can include low income, lack of education or appropriate job skills, mental or physical disability, homelessness, a prison record or other impediments.

The 82 job training programs include training for construction, hotel operations, manufacturing, clerical and automotive repair jobs.

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The consortium-council, which oversees one of the nation’s largest JTPA programs, also operates programs to persuade youths to get high school degrees, find summer jobs and shun gang involvement.

Since 1982, more than 100,000 San Diegans have completed the program, and 80% were placed in jobs, said JTPA spokeswoman Karen Young. No figures are kept on the rate of job retainment, she said.

“We are very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” Young said. “Our goal is to train and place people in satisfying jobs they can be proud of. Larry Tripp is a good example.”

After being laid off from his repairman’s job in 1984, Tripp began working as a self-employed handyman, but work was inconsistent. His wife, Ronny, died of breast cancer in 1988, leaving Tripp to raise their daughter, Kimberly, 6, and his stepdaughter, Lina, 16.

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By the time he applied for benefits at the welfare office in 1988, Tripp had already enrolled in Grossmont College to take some math, typing and English courses. It was then that he decided to sign up for a JTPA secretarial-word processing course at Grossmont.

“I was surprised I did very well. I ended up being the teacher’s aide,” Tripp said.

After his classmates elected him class president, Tripp enrolled full time, graduated first in his class and delivered the graduation address. Last year, he began working in a computer-clerical job at HomeFed Bank. In February, he transferred to HomeFed Insurance, where he works full time as an accounts clerk.

“It took me a long time to get over my wife’s death, but things are moving on now,” Tripp said. “The JTPA helped me save time and money in finding a new career.”

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In San Diego, the JTPA has a reputation for supplying generally hard-working people with a good work ethic, according to employers.

“It’s certainly a worthwhile program. Their workers express a real desire to make positive changes in their lives,” said Ed Long, administrator of the California Special Care Center, an extended-care hospital in La Mesa that employs two JTPA graduates as nurse assistants.

“Really, they perform better than many of our other employees because they have made a commitment to succeeding,” Long said.

William Bridge, director of technical services for the Reuben H. Fleet Space Theater and Science Center in Balboa Park, said the center has hired eight JTPA workers during the past few years.

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Although some quit unexpectedly, the two JTPA graduates now working at the center as custodians are doing well, and the center will continue to hire the program’s graduates, Bridge said.

“We need honest, responsible people and (the JTPA) does a good job in screening, so I would recommend them to other companies,” Bridge added.

The San Diego consortium-council was host of a JTPA alumni dinner Tuesday as part of the National JTPA Alumni Week celebration, Aug. 27-Sept. 3. Tripp gave a short speech on his involvement with JTPA.

For 1990, the San Diego consortium-council, which includes representatives of city and county governments, private companies, community organizations and education, received $19 million of the $3.7 billion in JTPA funds distributed nationwide, Young said. Money is allocated according to an area’s unemployment rate.

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