By Tracy Correa
HINKLEY – Albert Gutierrez is getting his hands dirty under the hood of a nearly 30-foot long, flatbed tow truck. If he’s intimidated, he doesn’t show it.
The 18-year-old recent high school graduate from Hinkley is anxious to learn. And, with an interest in the auto repair field, he is getting valuable on-the-job experience at Barstow Towing.
Gutierrez is one of eight young adults – ages 18-to 24-years old – participating in the Hinkley Career Training Program. The program is funded with a $38,000 grant from PG&E to the Career Institute, an organization that specializes in career-building services for young adults.
For Gutierrez, whose limited work experience was in the fast food industry, the skills he gains from the program could help him establish a career.
Ask him what he likes about working at Barstow Towing and Gutierrez is quick to answer: “All of it.” He is performing oil changes, rotating tires – anything needed to help keep the fleet of 16 tow trucks running smoothly.
The program’s participants from the Hinkley-Barstow area are receiving nine weeks of paid work experience and classroom instruction that includes help with interviewing techniques and resume preparation.
Under way since August, the program ends later this month. It is much-needed in the Hinkley community, which suffers from an unemployment rate between 14 and 15 percent. For a young person with limited job skills, the market is even tougher.
The unincorporated San Bernardino County community in the Mojave Desert has less than 2,000 people and very few local businesses. That’s why participants like Gutierrez work in nearby towns.
The workers’ $9-an-hour wages are covered by the grant, so it’s a win for participating employers, too.
Dan Ebersohl, president of Barstow Towing, said the program provides him an extra set of work hands at no cost to his company. He also feels good that he is helping a young person gain job skills.
He said Gutierrez knew very little when he arrived, but now he blends right in with the company’s 18 other employees. “He knows more now than he did when he first started,” said Ebersohl, who said Gutierrez has progressed from part-time to full-time shifts.
Across town, 19-year-old Dylan Barton is getting his hands dirty, too. He’s cleaning carpets at a rental house under the watchful eye of Titan Carpet Care owner Luke Haefele.
Barton is looking to add work experience to his resume.
“I’m more of a physical person,” said Barton, who is built like a linebacker. His strength comes in handy when he is hauling cleaning equipment from the work truck.
Barton said he wants to be the decision-maker at a company. “One day I do want to own my own business,” he said, just like Haefele.
The two joke like brothers, but Haefele takes a serious tone when he talks to Barton about what it’s like to run a business. “We talk about profit and loss, what it’s like to bid on a job,” said Haefele.
Haefele said he has come to trust Barton and even allowed him to back his prized Hummer out of the driveway. And he’s been so impressed by the young man that he hopes to hire him after the program ends.
Value of training
Teresa Taylor, CEO of the Career Institute, said the partnership with PG&E is helping fill a critical void in a small town with few employment options. “Today’s economy needs well-trained workers,” she said.
PG&E’s Ray Gonzalez, a senior government relations representative who works in Hinkley, said members of the Hinkley Community Advisory Committee came up with the idea for the youth work program. The Community Advisory Committee was formed last year and is part of PG&E’s continuing effort to support the people of Hinkley as it cleans up material left over from use at a gas compressor plant decades ago.
As a former chairman of the San Bernardino Employment Training Agency and a long-time member of the County Workforce Development Board, Gonzalez understands the importance of career training.
This program truly benefits the young people in Hinkley, he said. “My hope is what they take away from this are lifelong skills.”
Melissa Matteson, a career mentor with Career Institute, said the program is about much more than providing a short-term pay check. The hope is to broaden their horizons to make them see their full potential.
Now, she said, at least half of the eight businesses said they plan to hire the youth workers after the program ends.
E-mail Tracy Correa at Tracy.Correa@pge.com