N.J. program helps train 'hard to employ' for jobs

Bill Jeter, a US Army veteran who won a purple heart in Vietnam, sits in front of a broken typewriter in a ramshackle warehouse here and goes to work with a rare enthusiasm -- at $3.10 an hour, the minimum wage.

When Mr. Jeter got out of the service, he immediately went on welfare. Mental and family problems, increased by his own sense of feeling worthless, made life look pretty hopeless, he says.

Now, however, he is one of about 100 men and women at the Community Help Corporation in this blue-collar north New Jersey community who are finding that being so-called "hard to employ" doesn't mean you have to stay that way.

Mr. Jeter is off welfare, taking care of his four-year-old daughter. Soon, his supervisors hope, he will land a job with IBM, fixing typewriters at a substantially higher wage than he ever thought he could earn.

The Community Help Corporation gets 60 percent of its budget from a five-year-old national program to help the hard-to-employ called the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC).

At a time when funds for job-training programs are being threatened by Carter administration cutbacks, the experimental MDRC program may get a new lease on life, just as Mr. Jeter has, and be incorporated into the US Labor Department's mainstream of programs.

Why? Because the MDRC is successful at getting people off welfare and back into the work force, US Labor Department officials say.

Charles Knapp, deputy assistant secretary of the US Department of Labor, says this about the MDRC: "In a time of limited financial resources, funding must be channeled to social-welfare projects where we know there is an impact." The MDRC , he says, "meets this objective. This can have a profound effect on the future development of national policy for social-welfare recipients."

Nationwide, roughly 3,000 hard-to-employ people -- from welfare recipients to ex-drug addicts -- participate in the program at 15 sites, including here in Jersey City and in Atlanta, Chicago, Milwaukee, and elsewhere. Participants were given intensively supervised work experience, from typewriter repair to short-order cooking, under conditions of gradually growing demands. At first, some people began their year of training by just learning to show up for work on time and stay for a scheduled period of hours; later, they were sufficiently prepared to begin to learn a skill.

The MDRC's main objective was to teach the participants good work habits that they could take with them to any job. However, in many cases, such as with Mr. Jeter, people stick with the trade for which they were trained.

What separates MDRC training and job- training efforts from other programs under CETA (the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act) is the intensive personal supervision MDRC workers receive, along with the emphasis on developing steady and reliable work habits.

Here in Jersey City, blue-jeaned Ray Vyzas is the head supervisor of the typewriter repair shop where Mr. Jeter works for eight hours a day.

"We see a lot of accomplishments in terms of people learning a skill," Mr. Vyzas said in a recent interview. "But everybody who works here is not going to be a typewriter repairman. That would be unrealistic."

"The hardest job," Mr. Vyzas continued, "is to get them to be responsible for their actions. We have to teach them to be responsible for the type of work they do." And we feel if a person is interested, Willing to learn, he will learn from beginning to end."

Mr. Jeter, his supervisor says, has "been willing to learn from beginning to end."

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