TODAY IS GRADUATION DAY at an oil refinery in Wilmington. After an innovative, yearlong training course, 30 people will accomplish a rare feat of economic acrobatics: They'll jump from poverty into jobs that start at $70,000 a year, running the complex equipment that makes gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.
The students are graduates of a public/private partnership called Career Pathways, and though the first graduating class is small, next year the program will expand to as many as 300 people. The need for the program is clear. A single parent with two children in L.A. County, according to the United Way, needs to earn a minimum of about $43,000 a year to cover food, housing, child care and transportation -- but the average woman here makes about $35,000. The million or so formerly on welfare earn far less; the majority remain at or below the poverty line.
One problem is that most of the fastest-growing job sectors in the county -- in the retail industry or in restaurants, for example -- typically offer low pay. Nursing is an exception, and there is a much-heralded county initiative to help nurse's aides, who earn about $25,000 a year, become licensed vocational nurses and registered nurses, who can make much more.
Such training programs are harder to come by in the private sector. Hundreds of people lined up for a place in the refineries' Career Pathways program, which is spearheaded by the nonprofit South Bay Health Services in collaboration with ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP and Valero. United Steelworkers members volunteered their time, Harbor College provided classroom instruction, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe helped get $600,000 in state funding and the chancellor's office of the state community college system kicked in another $600,000.
There is no magic bullet for moving people out of poverty. But there are creative and efficient ways to provide real opportunities, and that's all anyone can ask.