Job placement slow for graduates of retail training program
By Charlotte Libov
Finding jobs for the graduates of an innovative retail training program set up by Miami-Dade's public school system and others is not going as well as was hoped.
Problems with the program left organizers blaming each other for not doing background checks of students and failing to offer support in placements, but all gave the program high marks and pledged to make changes.
Only about six of the 17 graduates have been placed, said program manager Henry Ros. They were hired by Home Depot, CVS and Marshall's, he said.
"They'll start at cashier level more than likely," he said. "One will be working at the photoshop department of CVS because that is what he liked. They should all be able to work their way up because that's what the employers want them to do and that's what we've tried to instill in them.
"We told them they can do anything they want if they are willing to put in the hours and have the dedication to stick with one company."
Of the original 28 trainees, several were expelled because of excessive absenteeism.
Nineteen are registered for a second class, which began March 27, but officials are working to broaden the pool of applicants, Mr. Ros said, so the program will not be seen as a service for unemployed people on welfare.
"We're trying to get people who are willing to pay $277 for the class, so it's not seen as just a hardship program. It would widen the base," he said. Under the current program, students who meet income requirements attend for free. Others pay 25% of the tuition, and the state pays the remaining 75%.
The six-week program, which began in February, is designed to train people to work in the retail industry by providing them initial training certified by the National Retail Foundation as well as giving them the opportunity to take retail management courses at Miami-Dade Community College.
The program, at Lindsey Hopkins Technical Educational Center, was initiated as a project of the Workforce Development Coordinating Council of Metro Dade to provide training for jobs at the Shops at Midtown, which is still under construction.
Carlos A. Manrique, a specialist with the Miami-Dade Division of Workforce Development Education, said he agreed that "we have to have more people from the community. This can't just be a welfare program." He said he plans to advertise more widely to reach a broader pool of applicants.
He said he was frustrated that some students had criminal records and thought South Florida Workforce was involved in screening applicants.
Officials of South Florida Workforce could not be reached.
He also said he had hoped to get more help from the Beacon Council, the county's public-private economic development organization, in placeing students because "the retailers were supposed to be part of this. The Beacon Council said they'd met with Macy's and Penney's and that we had to have these classes."
He said he was proud of the program and the successful graduates. "It went like clockwork," he said.
Holly Wiedman, executive vice president of the Beacon Council, denied that the organization promised to find jobs.
"All we were there to do was facilitate getting the partners together," she said. "We were happy that the school system had gotten the program together so quickly."
She said the council arranged for a staff person to be on hand when school officials met with representatives of CVS and the Dolphin Mall.
Ms. Weidman suggested that school officials might time classes better to correspond with retailers' hiring schedules.
"This is a new program, and it was done very quickly," she said. "The word needs to get out to the retailers, and officials really need to look at the retailers' hiring season."
She said the Beacon Council "doesn't look for jobs," but "if the school system needs it, certainly we'll partner with them."