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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

Is it hard to get women excited about welding and driving a dump truck? Sometimes it is, says Arias. "We screen really carefully for women who are ready and right for the job," she says, and CLIMB doesn't accept every applicant — in fact it can only accept about 10 women for each training cohort. "We do a lot of interviewing and testing, we tell them 'welding can get hot, it's a lot of working alone.’ ” Women who don't seem like the right fit get put in a pool for other training opportunities.

It's also a "leap of faith" for employers, she says, many of whom mostly hired men before building relationships with CLIMB. "In the beginning, there were just some really good guys willing to take a chance," says Arias, especially with her first classes of CDL graduates that didn't have any driving experience.

But there are benefits for employers, too. Single moms can make great employees, she says. They are motivated to succeed. "My partners tell me that women drivers take better care of the trucks, they are more detail-oriented." As an added incentive for employers who may initially feel this demographic is an employment risk, CLIMB offers a money-back guarantee to employers for the first six weeks on the job. If a CLIMB graduate doesn't work out, those wages go back to the business. "It's not a big motivator for all of our partners," says Arias, but it's an added incentive to get their grads in the door

The biggest motivator for moms is the financial security that a "non-traditional" job can offer. CLIMB has had a 91 percent placement rate over the last year, and most graduates see their income double with their first paycheck.

Most trainees start the program with about $1,000 monthly income, and that jumps to an average of $2,363 within 24 months after graduation. CLIMB now has locations in six Wyoming cities thanks to a one-time federal TANF grant in 2004, and in some of them income averages are higher. In Rock Springs and Laramie, the average graduate makes over $3,000 a month. Almost half of CLIMB trainees were on food stamps when they began the program, and that number drops to 30 percent within 24 months.

Montoya was paid $13.50 an hour at her first trucking job post-graduation, and now, a couple years later, she's moved up to a new, higher-paying job with a landscaping company that pays $15. With good performance, she can soon make up to $18, she says.

She says that her newfound career "changed everything." The big moment for her came when she received a letter saying that she was no longer eligible for food stamps because of her income. "It was like oh my gosh, this is for real," she says. "That was a happy day — so happy."

Before, she was living in an apartment with mice and terrible neighbors. Now she lives in a new apartment and can afford "some nice things" for herself and her son. "I'm not on welfare, not in housing, and I can walk around town and hold my head up high," she says.

More than just the job

CLIMB's executive director, Ray Fleming Dinneen, was finishing her doctorate in psychiatry in 1986 when the Department of Employment came to her to understand why job training programs for youths were failing nationwide. What she found was that in order for workers to succeed long-term, especially for high-risk individuals, you also had to address personal barriers alongside job placement. She applied for funds to work with the "most vulnerable" population in terms of unemployment and poverty in her area — single moms — and founded CLIMB.

"There is little opportunity for a mom with the responsibility of a child to move beyond minimum wage work. To make a shift is almost impossible for a family without help — they have to work so hard to make the day-to-day," she says.

The barriers to employment aren't just lack of jobs or training. Issues such as abusive relationships, parenting issues and legal and custody battles all add stress and complicate home and work life. To address this, CLIMB requires once-a-week group therapy as part of the training courses. This provides a therapeutic environment where single moms can "trust that their needs will be heard, rather than having people dictate and tell them what to do," says Dinneen.

Her hope is that trainees can identify what has gotten in their way and move past those things. "It's about being free," she says. "Free of poverty, and freedom to enjoy family."

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