By Colleen Mooney
Former Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.” My experience as the executive director of South Bay Center for Counseling (SBCC), a nonprofit helping Los Angeles County’s most underserved communities, says that job creation is as well.
For 40-plus years, SBCC has been dedicated to empowering individuals, strengthening families and transforming communities. We harness new ideas and innovative solutions to help people in underserved communities lead healthy, productive and self-determined lives.
When the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC) recently released an important study that highlights the oil industry’s contribution to California’s economy, the numbers on employment and industry-generated state and local tax revenue were bound to be huge, given the state’s size and population. Sure enough, the LAEDC study, commissioned by the Western States Petroleum Association, found that refineries generate 368,100 jobs in California, including 77,847 in Los Angeles County, and pay $26.4 billion in state and local taxes.
With our mission viewed in the context of the LAEDC report, let me make the job-creation, economic-benefit story very local.
In the past, I heard community members voice concerns about why the hard-working men and women in neighborhoods surrounding the refineries didn’t have jobs there. It wasn’t because jobs didn’t exist. It was because the residents lacked the skills necessary to perform them.
In response, about a decade ago, representatives of nearby oil refineries, organized labor, community colleges and SBCC got together to address a full range of concerns and obstacles that limited the refineries’ ability to employ people from the community. The result was the Don Knabe Energy Pathways Program.
Ten years later, the program is a big success. To date, more than 450 men, women and veterans from the underserved South Bay communities of Wilmington and Long Beach have entered and passed through this rigorous program. The program helps working adults — most of whom already have full-time jobs — enhance career skills by attending classes after work four nights a week.
Making the program what it is today didn’t occur overnight, and there was much skepticism about its near-and long-term viability. Thanks to community colleges, the program overcame this challenge with a bridge program that helped close this gap in important areas such as math, science and English. Through a collaborative process, representatives of the refinery community, labor, community colleges and SBCC meet monthly and modify the program to ensure it meets today’s and tomorrow’s skill-level needs.
We’ve run into situations where program graduates couldn’t find employment at a refinery because there was not a job opening at that time. But because of the top-notch process technology training they received, these individuals found jobs in another industry and then, when openings at a refinery occurred, were hired by the refinery. We believe that’s a true measure of successful cooperation between the community, educators, industry and SBCC.
Quality of life starts with a job. The Don Knabe Energy Pathways Program has proved to be a “win-win” for the community — with men, women and our veterans getting cutting-edge skills through training, followed by securing living wage and family-supporting careers. The refinery community wins because it gets skilled employees from the local area. For SBCC, we have a leading-edge program that, were other large employers as willing and able to participate as the refining industry has been, we would love to replicate.
To me, the significant economic and employment contributions of the refining industry, as highlighted in the LAEDC study, tell a story far more compelling than the aggregate numbers. What they really demonstrate is that programs like the Don Knabe Energy Pathways Program and industry can work together to improve the lives of real people through skills building and careers that empower individuals to support themselves and their families, building pathways to self-sufficiency that change lives.
Original article available at: www.presstelegram.com