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Laid-Off Workers Starting Over : City Programs Teach New Jobs in Aftermath of Defense Industry Cutbacks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Elizabeth Trujillo glanced from computer screen to computer manual, trying to decipher the columns of numbers before her. Even though she spent the past three years assembling the innards of computers, actually operating the machines was unfamiliar territory.

“Two months ago I was making circuit boards for computers,” the 34-year-old Sun Valley woman said. “Now I have to learn how this all works.”

Trujillo, who was laid off by Arbco Electronics Inc. in Van Nuys last September, is among the first to take advantage of a city-sponsored worker retraining program aimed at aerospace employees in the San Fernando Valley who have recently lost their jobs.

Beginning Monday, workers who lost their jobs and need new skills to land another will be able to seek free counseling, training and job referrals in a city-sponsored program at the West Valley Community Center, 17400 Victory Blvd., the first such job center in the Valley.

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It is based on a smaller pilot program that Trujillo participates in which started several months ago.

The program was instituted following a series of Los Angeles City Council hearings in the Valley last summer in which local lawmakers sought ways to ease the economic pain of plant closures and layoffs in Southern California defense and aerospace industries hit by federal defense budget cuts.

In the San Fernando Valley alone-- home to about 120,000, or 40%, of defense industry jobs in Los Angeles County--about 8,000 workers are expected to lose their jobs this year, according to the Los Angeles County Private Industry Council.

The new center will be operated by the United Auto Workers-Labor, Employment and Training Corp., a nonprofit group founded by the UAW. The city provided enough money to offer free classes to about 175 workers, a number that city officials admit is far below the demand.

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“When you look at the number of displaced workers, it is staggering,” said Stuart Susswain, senior manager in the city’s Community Development Department, which oversees jobs programs.

“We will only be able to serve a limited portion of the people, but will stretch the resources as much as possible,” Susswain said.

The city has allocated about $500,000 of its $1.6-million budget for job training programs to the new Valley center. Also, Susswain said, the city will receive a still undetermined portion of a federal grant of about $12 million newly awarded to Los Angeles County. He hopes it will be enough to keep the center operating beyond next June.

Openings for job training courses will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, he said. Los Angeles city residents who have been laid off or non-residents who lost jobs with firms operating in the city are eligible for training programs that cost $2,500 to $3,000 per student.

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Although the program was created in response to defense industry layoffs, workers in any field can seek help in the West Valley office.

Three- to six-month courses will be offered in computer repair, computer drafting, accounting and word processing due to current demand for workers skilled in those fields, said Robert Nelson, vice-president of UAW-LETC.

Under its contract with the city, the organization must find new jobs for 80% of the students or receive reduced payments.

Workers who enroll in the courses typically have fine-tuned skills that were able to meet the needs of their former employers in areas such as accounting, computer data entry or assembly, or office equipment maintenance and repair. They need more generalized abilities in the same area to find other jobs, program officials said.

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In addition to the jolt of losing often long-held jobs, those enrolled in the courses said they are bracing themselves for a salary reduction.

Linda Wollaston, president of Van Nuys College of Business, said workers enrolled in the city-sponsored classes are guaranteed placement at salaries that typically range from $11 to $17 an hour.


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