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Essex career center earns a top honor for its efforts


Carl H. Kitzman, unemployed after 23 years with one company, is learning drafting.

Carolyn C. Clark, 30, a single mother who has moved from job to job, is also out of work. But she is building her professional confidence along with expanding her office skills.

Ginger Bialek, 21, had no work experience except part-time jobs in fast-food restaurants. Now she earns $19,000 a year as a junior draftsman.

All three got another shot at the job market thanks to the Baltimore County Career Development Center in Essex.

In the nine years since the center opened its doors, some 3,700 students have taken advantage of the program. Three-quarters of the men and women who finished in 1991, the last year for which statistics are available, got jobs within 90 days of graduation.

In the last five years alone, the center has helped train 300 welfare recipients who later re-entered the job market.

This morning in Washington, U.S. Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin is to present the center with the 1992 Job Training Partnership Act Presidential Award, for operating an outstanding job training program.

The program is a joint local and national project. Half its funding comes from the federal government; the rest of the cost is shared by Dundalk and Essex Community colleges, which also provide the program's 30 teachers and counselors.

The Private Industry Council, a group of area business leaders, determines what specific kind of training is needed in the current job market.

The building in which the center is located -- a former furniture store that stood vacant and decaying for years in the 400 block of Eastern Boulevard -- seems symbolic of its mission.

Remodeled for the jobs program, even the basement is now used to teach skills like electronic appliance repair, heating and air conditioning repair, refrigeration and pipe-fitting.

Students come mostly from Baltimore County, although some, like Ms. Clark, live in the city. Once admitted, they are tested for academic skills, then they take remedial courses if needed. Students can chose four- to six-month-long training programs in LTC office and bookkeeping skills, drafting and computer operations, or industrial work. They must attend the training program five days a week; the last week is devoted entirely to searching for a job.

But the program is not limited to teaching job-related skills, said assistant director Barbara Gregory. The idea, she said, is to concentrate on developing the whole person, not just focusing on his or her need for a job.

For example, students get vocational counseling. And those who have personal problems can get help through the center as well. In addition, because the program is designed to duplicate real job conditions, students must adhere to a dress code, come to class on time and speak and behave in a professional manner while in training.

Ms. Clark, the mother of a 12-year-old son, praised the jobs program. She said she needed to learn more professional office skills -- letter formatting, for example -- and she badly needed a dose of self-confidence too.

She had had months of unsuccessful job interviews before starting the training course.

"I felt, 'What's wrong with me?' " she said.

She has learned, she added, that it's not necessarily her fault if she doesn't get hired. And she's learned to shed the sense of desperation that might push her to take just anything. "I have a right to pick and choose myself," she said. "I'm very confident I'll find a job when I graduate."

Ms. Clark, of Northeast Baltimore, and Mr. Kitzman, 49, of Carney, are graduating from the jobs program this month.

Mr. Kitzman said he is unhappy about the prospect of getting a job that pays only two-thirds of his former salary, but he is excited about learning something new, competing with younger people again and remaining active in the work force.

Ginger Bialek graduated last May. She expected to be in Washington today, along with center director Joe Shopulski, to accept the award.

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