The Job Corps training center in Indianapolis is gearing up for a huge local expansion, significantly boosting the downtown presence of a federal workforce training program for older teens and young adults that has been operating nationally since 1964 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society domestic reforms.
The expansion has been made possible by the IndyPendence Job Corps training center’s move from Ohio Street to larger office space in BMO Plaza on Pennsylvania Street. The center is now searching for more low-income young people to take advantage of free training as office administrators, certified nursing assistants and, within the next year, manufacturing trades workers.
Last week, it graduated about half of its 30 students in a ceremony at the Indiana War Memorial downtown. Now, it hopes to increase its total enrollment more than threefold.
“Our initial goal is to reach 84 students by the end of September and, going forward, to increase to 100,” said Reginald Porter, Indianapolis site director. “The great thing is, we’re fully staffed now, so we’re just enrolling students. We’re actively seeking them.”
The program, administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, helps 16- to 24-year-olds earn high school equivalency diplomas and certificates in certain careers. Students also receive career-planning and job-placement assistance.
To be accepted, students must show financial need. Teens, for example, can show they qualify for free school lunches; young adults must qualify under federal government income standards.
The services are provided nationally to about 60,000 students each year through a $42 million federal budget.
Lyvia St-Cyr, 18, of Indianapolis, has received a high school equivalency diploma, training and much more from the IndyPendence training center, she said. She graduated last week with certificates in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
“I had a great experience at Job Corps. I was there for 11 months,” St-Cyr said. She now has a full-time job at Eskenazi Hospital, where she has been working for two months handling patient check-ins. She said she uses some of her computer skills but wants to use more. She intends to go to Ivy Tech Community College, and perhaps Ball State University, to further her education.
She enrolled at Job Corps after experiencing trouble with other students at a public high school, and her grades dropped during the pandemic. She said it was the best opportunity to earn her high school equivalency diploma, receive free training and get extra help preparing for jobs.
Job Corps helped her Excellerate interview skills by doing mock interviews. “I used to have trouble talking during interviews, but I got better at that,” she said. St-Cyr said teachers also taught her to look up background information about companies before she interviewed there.
“I still keep in touch with my teachers,” she said. “They ask me how things are going and if I need help finding a job.”
For years, the program also has provided local employers with needed workers.
William Anderson, vice president of operations at United Personal Care Inc., said his home health care service company began partnering with Job Corps in 2011 and has hired some 50 graduates as certified nursing assistants. The company offers services—including meals, personal and companion care, and transportation—to elderly people and those with disabilities.
“I’ve had a lot of success stories from students at Job Corps,” Anderson said. “They have worked well with clients and provide good care.”
Job Corps, he said, develops a good skill set for students through its certification program and prepares them well for the work world. The training provided by United Personal Care also equips students with skills they’ll need on the job, Anderson added.
“They really know what is expected of them,” he said. “We have formed the greatest partnership with the Job Corps.”
During the pandemic, Anderson said, the relationship with Job Corps dwindled, but it recently has been rekindled to help meet the growing demand for certified nursing assistants, fueled by aging baby boomers’ needs.
Certified nursing assistants “are a very hot commodity right now,” Anderson said. “As quickly as [Job Corps] can get them ready, we’re ready to put them to work.”
Expansion of the local Job Corps offerings began to take shape as it opened its new space in December in BMO Plaza, at 135 N. Pennsylvania St. The agency uses all 20,000 square feet of the 20th floor. Job Corps had about 13,000 square feet at 222 E. Ohio St. before that building was sold.
“This building is newly renovated,” Porter said. “We wanted something a little more up to date and eye-appealing. We wanted to have the feeling of a community college or trade school. When this building was available, the powers that be worked it out.”
Porter looks forward to attracting more young adults but said some people, unfortunately, still don’t know about Job Corps despite its being here more than 50 years.
“It’s been called one of the greatest-kept secrets,” he said. “Marketing hasn’t been where it’s supposed to be.”
But the agency is now ramping up its visibility, with billboards and advertisements on IndyGo buses. Job Corps is partnering with high schools locally, speaking at career days and appealing to students who aren’t looking at college, as well as those who can’t graduate from high school due to too few credits and dropouts working dead-end jobs, Porter said.
The median age of students is about 20 years old, and not many 16- to 18-year-olds are enrolled, he said. About 40% have high school diplomas. Some of those graduates need only four months to earn certificates. But the typical student who needs a high school equivalency diploma and gets a certificate takes eight to nine months to complete both, Porter said. Some take up to two years.
Currently, besides the certified nursing assistant program, three office administration certificates are offered in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint, giving students skills to work, for example, in customer service.
Within about a year, Porter said, Job Corps plans to offer training in manufacturing trades under a partnership with an educational institution. Skills in basic machinery operation, quality control and supervision will be the focus.
“Workforce training expansion announcements like this align with Indy Chamber’s regional economic development strategy, Accelerate Indy, emphasizing the importance of talent attraction and retention efforts in central Indiana,” said Sarah Iglehart, Indy Chamber’s senior vice president of regional economic development.
Young adults can learn about Job Corps’ Indianapolis training center at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays when public tours and information sessions are conducted. Those interested can also call 317-524-6788 to make appointments.•