Just as some economic developers have started preaching the need for more skills training of young people, the federal government is about to shut down some major providers of those programs.
Job Corps programs are on the chopping block, including the potential for the closure of the Great Onyx Job Corps in Mammoth Cave National Park.
Closing the center could be devastating to the community agencies that benefit from the work of corps students and take away valuable training, according to Edmonson County Judge-Executive N.E. Reed.
Reed is urging area residents and leaders to write their congressmen and submit comments in support of keeping the Great Onyx center open. The Federal Register is seeking comments about what methodology it should use in determining closures of Job Corps centers.
Robby Owens, 22, of Lexington, is a student at the Job Corps and hopes the government does what it can to keep his center open.
While Owens will be finished with his program before any closures would begin, he said the Great Onyx Job Corps provides a valuable service to up to 214 students, ages 16 to 24.
Owens, a high school graduate, received welding training in high school. But to get a job, he has to have a certification, so since August that’s what he has been working toward at Great Onyx.
By welding gates at Land Between the Lakes, he gets on-the-job training and instruction in what he needs to know to pass the certification test.
His training, meals, room and board and a small stipend are given to him for participating in the program, something that Owens and other low-income participants likely would not otherwise be able to afford.
“It is helping a lot of students make a better life for themselves,” Owens said.
He characterizes his own job prospects after getting certification as excellent.
The center at Mammoth Cave also has an Urban Forestry Training Program whose students help with removal of hazardous or non-native trees around the hotel and visitors center, and with clearing the way for a new bike and hiking path, according to Vickie Carson, public information officer for Mammoth Cave National Park.
“We tell them what needs to be done and they do it,” Carson said.
Carson said there is no telling how much work the program has contributed to the park.
Reed said students in other programs such as masonry and carpentry have made improvements at one of the school cafeterias, worked on the health department building and the county’s relatively new library. They also have worked at county park facilities.
“Closing the center here would be a severe economic stress,” Reed said.
Not only do center students help out multiple public agencies, the corps provides employment for 70 people.
“It’s our third-largest employer,” Reed said.
It’s unclear just how many centers will close, and the Federal Register indicates it will try to keep open at least one center in each state. Kentucky has seven Job Corps centers, including one in Muhlenberg County.
— Comments are requested by Feb. 11 and should be sent to: National Director, Office of Job Corps, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Room N4459, Washington, DC 20210. Comments should be submitted as soon as possible because mail may be delayed for security reasons.