Training Boston minority students for jobs in the high-tech industry

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

From Antonio Monteiro's living room window, the high-technology future is nowhere to be seen. Crumbling structures and vacant lots dominate the landscape in this Boston neighborhood with its chronic unemployment and racial tensions.

Yet a training program at Roxbury Community College (RCC) here is preparing minority residents - like Mr. Monteiro - for high-technology jobs.

Three years ago, Monteiro could find only part-time work to support his wife and three children. ''The pay was very little,'' he says. Last fall, however, after completing the RCC program he was hired by Teradyne Inc., a Boston high-tech firm.

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Promoted to computer technician after only a few months, Monteiro now smiles broadly when he talks of the future. ''I'm going to buy a house,'' he declares.

The success of Monteiro and others like him shows the promise of high-tech. But many argue that neither training nor job openings will be sufficient to reduce high minority unemployment.

The federally funded three-year-old program has established a strong placement record in Boston's competitive high-tech fields. Last year it found jobs for 19 of 24 graduates with local companies. The positions seldom pay more than $5 an hour, but they are stable and offer the chance for advancement.

Bob Buckley, the director of RCC's high-tech project, attributes its high placement record to its curriculum. ''We try to develop our program around particular company needs,'' he says.

For instance, when a Cambridge firm indicated that it would be hiring microprocessing technicians, Mr. Buckley promptly reallo-cated students, instructors, and labs to microprocessing training.

Technical training is only part of the RCC program. Equal emphasis is given to the development of good work habits and attitudes.

''I'm the first to say that we (minorities) have a lot of growing to do in accepting responsibility and sticking with it,'' Buckley says. ''We tell students that if they're late or . . . don't look professional, they won't last a minute and shouldn't be wasting our time.''

Weekly workshops at RCC help students - many with sporadic work backgrounds - to handle responsibility and adopt professional work habits.

''My attitude has changed completely,'' says Thomas Woodward, an RCC student. Mr. Woodward, who says he had a spotty job record before entering the program, adds, ''I've stopped falling down the hill, and have started climbing back toward the top.'' He now sports a three-piece suit and says, ''Who knows? Maybe I'll make it.''

According to recruiters from high-tech firms at a recent RCC job fair, teaching work attitudes and personal skills could be the program's most vital component.

The RCC program receives 80 percent of its money from the United States government through the Neighborhood Development Employment Agency. But cuts of 30 percent in the agency's budget could reduce the program's scope next year.

The private sector, however, has been stepping up its support. CompuGraphics, for instance, recently donated $25,000 in equipment and training. ''We need more of that,'' Buckley says.

Despite the program's early success, experts argue that high-tech training only scratches the surface of minority unemployment. Here in Roxbury, the RCC program will graduate only 22 this fall.

Admission standards for the school's high-tech program - which requires 10 th-grade reading and math skills - are out of the reach of many applicants. Less than half those who apply are accepted.

Applicants can take remedial courses and qualify later, but labor experts argue that even if funding for remedial training and large-scale high-tech training were available, there would not be enough jobs for them.

Although the high-tech job market is rapidly expanding - projected to double by 1988 - there will be little more than 1 million new jobs, AFL-CIO economist Mark Roberts says. In fact, the US Department of Labor says the majority of openings in this decade will be in low-paying service categories.

''High-tech is a hollow promise,'' Mr. Roberts says. ''It is not an answer for minority unemployment.''

While he says he recognizes these limitations, Buckley maintains that RCC's early successes show that minorities - provided with an opportunity - can adapt to shifting labor needs. ''Our track record is good - a young one - but good,'' he says.

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