Los Angeles - - Spirits were high as 25 students graduated from the Metro Bridge Training Program on March 5. “I’ve got some hope now for the future that I haven’t had in a long time,” said graduate Bill Erwin.
The Metro Bridge Training Program was developed and implemented in August 2006 to meet Metro’s need of filling hundreds of bus operator positions. The program was created collaboratively by Los Angeles Valley College (LAVC) Job Training with partners from Metro, Community Career Development, and the Literacy Network of Greater Los Angeles. Since 2006, 667 men and women have been through the Bridge Program and, of those, 424 gained employment with Metro as Bus Operators.
The two week Bridge Program consists of intense classes covering critical thinking, time management, customer service skills, test taking techniques, and positive study habits. Students also prepare for the DMV Class B permit exam and complete the test during the program. Participants who pass the DMV test and successfully complete the Bridge Program interview directly with Metro for the Bus Operator position. The March 5 graduates make up the 25th class. They join 30 graduates who completed the program on February 5.
Erwin, a pilot who was an air traffic controller in the military for years, talked about falling on hard times. He said the Bridge Program helped him get his life back. “Two years ago I lost my home and was homeless. Now I’m living in Veterans Administration Domiciliary Housing and I can’t wait to work for Metro,” he said. “I’m going to get to return to the community and start a career. I get to have my life back now.”
Brenda Negrete, Program Manager for the Bridge Program, said the reason their program is so successful is because they work closely with the employer every step of the way. “Metro is looking for future employees with good customer service skills, positive attitudes, strong work ethics, and people who are willing to get back into a classroom setting. We make sure we fill the Bridge Program with men and women who fit that description,” she said.
Lennie Ciufo, Job Training Director, kicked off the graduation ceremony by congratulating the participants and thanking their families and friends for supporting them. He also thanked the Bridge Program partners expressing gratitude towards Metro. “Without an employer, we wouldn’t have a program. Thank you Metro,” he said. He introduced each of the speakers and invited them to share a few words with the graduates.
Division Chief of Southern California for the Employment Development Department, Michael Dolphin, spoke about bridges and how they help people get to where they want to go. He said he admired the way the group worked together, “You found ways to help each other get through this program. That amazes me every time.”
Student Graduate Speaker, Johnathon Gardea, also noted the bond he had formed with his fellow classmates, “We as a class have come a long way from being complete strangers. Not only has this course brought us together, it has prepared us for a life changing career in an area in which we can grow and shine, as the great, friendly people we are.
Ramon Alarcon, Executive Director of Transportation, talked about his own experience starting as a bus operator and working his way up to where he is today. “You are the face and the eyes of Metro, the public sees you, and that’s why it [Bridge Program] is so important,” he said. “With the right mind and attitude, anything is possible. Keep going in the direction you are going and you will be successful.”
Current Metro Bus Operator Michael Mack addressed the group, revealing he had sat in their seats less than a year ago after completing the Bridge Program. “This is only the beginning, it gets tougher,” he advised. “To be the best you have to take it seriously. When failure is not an option, then you will succeed.”
Mack said that by completing the Bridge Program they were embarking not just towards a job, but a career. He started working for Metro in October 2009 and already plans to start supervisor training in the next few months. He said he appreciates the opportunities Metro has given him and wants to help other people get their foot in the door at Metro. “I’m truly grateful. I believe when you’re grateful you use every opportunity to inspire others. My hope for the group is that they take the opportunity seriously so they can enter into a dream career.”
“Thank you for letting me serve you,” Job Training Metro teacher, Michael Tompkins said. “You have been exposed to some great opportunities. I know you’re going to be very successful.
After the many speakers congratulated the graduates, Ciufo took a moment to give special recognition to the many veterans who were part of the class. “We appreciate everything you have done for our country and we are honored to have you be part of the program. You are an inspiration to us all,” he said.
Prior to reading the graduates' names, Job Training announced a unique bonus for all of the students who had completed the program. The graduates received a free one unit class through LAVC's Virtual Valley. The online course in speech communication was customized for public sector customer service for Metro.
After the ceremony, graduates shared their thoughts on what the experience and the potential opportunities meant to them. Lynelle Blanton said working for Metro would help her family. “It would give me an opportunity to take care of my kids because I’m a single parent,” she said. “I hope I do well at the interview so I can continue growing with a great company.”
Deidre Ross said it was a challenge because she was starting from the bottom. “I have no where to look but up at this point,” she said.
The students said the Metro professionals and Job Training instructors made a huge difference. “It has been a great experience and if it weren’t for the teachers, I don’t think I would have made it,” Dawn Brice said. Gardea agreed, “The teachers gave us direction and light. They kept our spirits up, and our minds open.”
“This is one of the best experiences of my life,” exclaimed graduate Shawn Samuels. “I’m ready to start my career.”
To build on the ongoing success of this program Job Training and its partners have secured funding to ensure these trainings will continue into the future. If you are interested in learning more about the program please contact Brenda Negrete, Metro Bridge Program Manager, at 213-805-4284 or Tony Jaramillo, Job Training Senior Field Representative, at 818-947-2941.
The March 2010 Graduating Class (click on photo for larger image)