Abell Salutes: Job Opportunities Task Force (JOTF) and its Jump Start Program

September 2012 / Criminal Justice and Addiction / Salutes
Job Opportunities Task Force (JOTF) and its Jump Start Program

At about 5:00 on an afternoon in 2005, Parnell Hall, Jr., a 44-year-old African American, happened to be on the Number 15 bus heading north on Gay Street, when he overheard two passengers talking to one another, “something about,” Parnell would recall years later, “what a “great organization ‘Jump Start’ is.” The speaker went on to say how the organization had got him a job and put him back on his feet. Parnell, a high school dropout and recently released from prison (five years), down on his luck and out of a job, seemingly getting nowhere, was none the less trying – taking classes at several job-training centers – had heard all he needed to hear. He leaped up from his seat and asked the speaker how to get in touch with Jump Start, a program offered by Job Opportunities Task Force. The next day, he did, at Our Daily Bread, located at 725 Fallsway. 

Parnell was accepted into the program and started attending classes, two nights a week, Mondays and Wednesdays, at 1212 North Wolfe Street. Kate McShane, placement director of apprenticeship at JOTF says, “Parnell had a wonderful attitude. He worked hard and accomplished much. He was a perfect student. He learned construction safety, and became certified in first aid and CPR and certain skills one needs to learn, to work in the construction trades. He graduated in August 2011. We got him a job with Cross Street Partners, at Tide Point. In his job, he is basically involved in property maintenance. He makes $13.39 an hour. “His story is one of our best success stories – we have a lot of them.” 

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The mission of the Job Opportunities Task Force is to develop and advocate policies and programs to increase the skills, job opportunities, and incomes of low-skill, low-income workers and job seekers. According to its literature: “We seek to integrate workforce development with economic and community development, and to respond to the workforce needs of both employers and job seekers. We bring together various components of the workforce system – employers, workers, job seekers, educators, trainers, service providers, public administrators, and policymakers – to identify what works, what needs to be changed, and how to improve outcomes.” 

JOTF’s most intensive efforts have been within the construction industry, to help low-income workers obtain entry-level construction jobs and give them the skills to enter apprenticeships. The 13-week handson training program, started in January 2006, has trained approximately 400 low-income residents, and has achieved an 80 percent placement rate. Employed graduates have experienced a 60 percent wage gain in the first year after graduation. In addition to the construction-specific training, graduates receive free driver’s education, assistance obtaining a driver’s license and car through Vehicles for Change for those who have obtained employment. Cost per trainee is $4,000. JumpStart is only open to Baltimore City residents who have a high school diploma or GED, and prospective students must pass a math test to ensure that participants enter the training with enough basic math skills to successfully complete training.

JOTF played an active advocacy role in the passage of three bills this year in the Maryland General Assembly, all designed to support increased opportunity for employment: 

Driver’s Licensing Requirements for Adults. A bill to reduce barriers to driver’s licensing for working adults was signed by Governor O’Malley on May 2, 2012. Until now, Maryland was the only state in the nation to require new drivers of all ages to complete the same onerous education and practice requirements, creating tremendous barriers to mobility and employment for low-income adults. Under the new law, for adults 25 and older the 60-hour practice rule will be reduced to 14 hours and the time for holding a provisional license will drop from 9 months to 45 days. Transportation Funding for Job Training. As a member of the state’s Fair Development Campaign, JOTF was actively engaged in advocating for legislation to require the Maryland Department of Transportation to dedicate one-half of 1 percent of federal transportation funds to workforce training. With the bill’s passage, Maryland will become the second state in the nation to permanently commit the .5% to job training and to ensure ongoing monitoring of the spending. Child Support Suspension for Incarcerated Obligors. When the new law takes effect, individuals who are sentenced to at least 18 consecutive months of imprisonment and do not have the financial capacity to pay will have their child support order automatically suspended upon incarceration. 

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Today, Parnell Hall is a productive and responsible citizen – and comfortable in his new life. He says, “I have a good job, with a future. I have a new wife. We have a home of our own. We live in a nice neighborhood, on Bayonne Avenue. We have a car. I am a happy man. And, I know, I owe it all to Jump Start.” And then, to underscore his understanding of his good fortune, he says with a wink, “Everybody can use a little jump start in their life.” Parnell had caught the right bus.