ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block. It sounds like tough times in Dayton, Ohio, when you hear about the thousands of layoffs at General Motors. It's a big employer in the area, and the city has an unemployment rate close to eight percent. Dayton is fighting back with a Job Center that's grown to be the largest in the nation. NPR's Noah Adams paid the center a visit.
NOAH ADAMS: The Job Center is a one-stop. The idea is to bring welfare services - Medicaid, childcare, drug counseling - under the same roof as workplace development. Training companies rent space, and some 2,000 people a day show up for help and advice. It's a vast, low, gray building on a riverside road, not far from the tall buildings of downtown.
Could I talk with you a minute?
Mr. JOSH GRANT(ph): Yeah. Hold on, buddy.
ADAMS: The parking lot fills up fast, especially in the mornings. People carry envelopes and files. And everyone has a story, a situation.
Mr. GRANT: What's up man?
ADAMS: A young guy, Josh Grant, here with his wife.
Mr. GRANT: I'm coming here to apply for a food stamp card because I'm laid off right now.
ADAMS: Laid off from Select Tool & Die a month ago. He's had ten years on that job.
Mr. GRANT: Being in Dayton right now with General Motors going under, the metal industry's out right now. Really it's tough for Dayton. It really is.
ADAMS: Josh Grant never thought about food stamps before, but there you go. His truck is nice, a new-looking white Ford.
Are you going to be able to hang on to it?
Mr. GRANT: Man, I hope so, dude.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ADAMS: Inside the Job Center, everybody signs up, waits their turn, and then they have to find the right hallway. And a map would help inside this building.
Unidentified Child: Can I put it everywhere I want?
Unidentified Woman: Put it right there.
(Soundbite of child laughing)
ADAMS: There is a day care center just off the main lobby for kids two to six while their parents are busy filling out forms or updating resumes. The Job Center has a cafeteria, and you'll find a small cooking school, a knife skills class being led by Chef Dawn Callison.
Ms. DAWN CALLISON (Chef): If you hear the knife sliding down through the orange, peeling off the white pithy part. That's very bitter. Your guest doesn't want to eat that. Neither do you.
ADAMS: Also wearing white in another classroom, about ten students learning to become nurse's aides. Here one young student pretends to be an old lady. They playact, starting with a knock on the patient's door.
(Soundbite of role play)
(Soundbite of knocking)
Unidentified Student: (As Ms. Daniel) Come in. Hi.
Unidentified Instructor: (As Nurse's Aide) Hi, Ms. Daniel. This is April, your nurse's aide for the evening. I'm going to help you from your bed to your wheelchair. But first let me wash my hands.
Unidentified Student: (As Ms. Daniel) OK. You touch old nasty Bob down the hallway?
Unidentified Instructor: (As Nurse's Aide) Yes. I washed my hands. I'm going to lock my - lock the bed.
ADAMS: This class is two weeks long, and then you can work as an aide or keep going academically.
Ms. TIFFANY SMITH(ph) (Hospital Housekeeper): I want to go to Monterey School(ph).
ADAMS: And be?
Ms. SMITH: A mortician assistant.
ADAMS: And how much would that pay, do you think?
Ms. SMITH: I don't know. I don't care. It's just always been my dream job.
ADAMS: Tiffany Smith is at present working in a hospital as a housekeeper. Her classmate, Michael Vanderpool(ph), needs this academic start. He'll go on to college, a four-year registered nurse program.
Mr. MICHAEL VANDERPOOL (Nurse's Aide Student; U.S. Army, Retired): I just got back from Iraq about a year ago. And I worked for GM as well when I got home, and decided once they laid off, I want to do something to help people, since I was in the infantry and mostly you kind of cause damage. I was a combat lifesaver in Iraq, so I had some experience with first aid, and decided this course will be good so I can get into the hospitals and work.
ADAMS: What to do after General Motors? What to do after the military? Those two questions resonate at the same frequency for Sam Wainscott.
Master Sergeant SAM WAINSCOTT (Counselor, The Job Center; U.S. Air Force, Retired): I retired in 2001, and I lost - I totally lost my identity. Master Sergeant Wainscott doesn't exist off of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base or out in the world.
ADAMS: Wainscott is U.S. Air Force retired, and his new career is with the Job Center. He's done lots of counseling - group sessions, one-on-one talks - with laid-off auto workers.
Master Sergeant WAINSCOTT: These folks here - they were the princes of the community here. They were the one everyone wanted to be. If you were a parent, you wanted them to date your daughter. You know, if you were a brother, you wanted them to marry your sister because they drove the neat truck, they got a new one every couple of years. They went to Myrtle Beach, or whatever, wherever they had - took exciting vacations. And you know, they've gone from that to being terribly disoriented because their world has literally just turned upside down on them.
ADAMS: In Dayton, an era is coming to an end. Two days before Christmas, the General Motors Moraine Assembly Plant closes for good. The last thousand workers will leave. Job Center counselor Sam Wainscott says these people now have to step outside and step up, get somebody to show them how to create their first-ever resume. And if they didn't graduate from high school, get that fixed.
Mr. DAN WEBSTER(ph) (Former GM Employee): I'm just here to take my GED due to General Motors, because I quit school and went to work for General Motors. I recommend nobody quit school to go to work.
ADAMS: Dan Webster was on a break from his Job Center GED class. His General Motors career started at 18. At the plant, he loaded the new vehicles on the railroad cars. He was laid off at 38. Now he wants his own heating and air-conditioning business.
Mr. WEBSTER: I feel like now I've wasted my time for the last 20 years of not doing nothing when I felt like I should have been doing something now. And I'm glad that it's happened, what's happened, for myself.
ADAMS: If you don't have a computer at home, don't have a car, take a bus to the center and find an empty workstation. Somebody will help you with your resume and show you how to run job searches. The Job Center has staff competing nationwide - even worldwide - to bring jobs to Dayton by the hundreds, or, they would hope, the thousands. Workforce development people, workforce talent people. One recent big win was a Payless distribution center that's opening soon. It's the shoe retailer. About 400 jobs up to $14 an hour. And Lucious Plant(ph) tells me about something that he says isn't really on the radar yet.
Mr. LUCIOUS PLANT(ph) (Staff Member, The Job Center): We have Wright-Patterson Air Force Base here. You know, they're building a National Space and Intelligence Center here that's going to employ thousands of people in the intelligence field. And there are companies that will be moving here that are going to hire people that can look at technical data from an intelligence point of view. I don't mean 007-type intelligence. Various kinds of intelligence, open-source intelligence, other kinds of intelligence work that regular people could be trained to do.
ADAMS: Lucious Plant at the Job Center. Remember in the parking lot in the morning where we started our story? Josh Grant used the word "metal" to describe Dayton's failing job market. Metal is Dayton's past, its legacy. If Lucious Plant is right, Dayton's job future might be computer spy craft. Noah Adams, NPR News.
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