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From trucking to welding — moms take jobs that pay the bills

Published: Wednesday, April 30 2014 5:00 a.m. MDT

Veronica, Haylee, Lorena, Ella and Rebecca pause for a photo during CDL training with Climb Wyoming, a non-profit organization that trains and places low-income single mothers in careers in order to help them successfully support their families.

Shannon Brooks Hamby, Climb Wyoming director of communications

Irene Montoya is a truck driver, and she loves it.

The 35-year-old from Cheyenne, Wyoming, likes making short hauls through beautiful places like Steamboat Springs, where the landscape is so breathtaking and peaceful that she can't believe she's getting paid to drive it. And she likes it when kids in passing cars gesture for her to blow her horn — which she usually can't resist.

Most of all, she likes that her job pays well — well enough for her and her 4-year-old son to live in a nice condo, to have a new car, to see the doctor and dentist when they need to. Three years ago, she was unemployed and struggling to support her child, and she contacted CLIMB, a job training program for low-income single moms that helped her get her commercial driver's license and land a job. Now, she and her son "live like civilized people," as Montoya says.

Government job placement programs have weak results. In the last quarter century, the U.S. has had more than 50 federal training programs, but unemployment rates have continued to struggle. Employment went up about 1 percent last year, but the economy continues to lag, and the number of unemployed in the U.S. is 10.5 million, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nine federal agencies spent approximately $18 billion annually for employment and job training programs, according to a 2012 Government Accountability Office report, but "little is known about the effectiveness of most programs," according to the report.

One placement program in Wyoming is successfully finding work for women like Montoya by training and placing them specifically in jobs that are in demand in the local economy. In a state like Wyoming, that means that mom is driving a truck, a forklift or firing up a welding torch. The payoff is that single moms have skills that are in demand — and allow them to successfully support their families, not just scrape by.

Flipping burgers to bringing home the bacon

Montoya wasn't working when she first contacted CLIMB Wyoming. She'd had other jobs before, mostly in fast food and bars, but she was getting out of a bad relationship and trying to care for her son, who was then just over a year old.

She saw a flier for CLIMB at family services that said they were training for commercial driver's licenses, and she thought to herself that she had never wanted a desk job, she had always liked "getting out in the dirt." Besides, she knew that she wasn't going to support her family by going back to flipping burgers.

"It was nontraditional, and I had been waiting for something like that," she says. "I had to do that for me and my son — so I did it."

Montoya's situation represents many women in Wyoming, where 43 percent of single mothers and their children live in poverty. Nationwide, 62 percent of employed mothers work in low-skill retail and service jobs that usually offer poor pay, little or no benefits, have little flexibility and are susceptible to cutbacks.

In demand

As a business liaison for CLIMB, it's Val Arias' job to find work for women that provides more than a poverty wage.

The state of Wyoming projects that in the next 10 years, job growth will demand 27 percent more commercial truck drivers, 22 percent more welding positions, 18 percent more health and technology jobs and 17 percent more nursing assistants. Arias crunches job report data like this and sets about building relationships with local businesses that might hire her graduates. Then, CLIMB builds training courses around those opportunities, usually in small classes of no more than 10 students.

Montoya completed a 12-week CDL training and certification, which, along with welding training, are ongoing mainstays of CLIMB's training and placement. One of CLIMB's newest offerings is training for warehouse inventory management and forklift operation positions.

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