Job placement program for depot employees marks a milestone of success
by Patrick McCreless
pmccreless@annistonstar.com
May 09, 2013 | 6407 views |  0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dennis Hughes expected months of job searching after the Anniston Army Depot released him from his contract in March.

It took the Oxford resident eight days instead, due to help from Operation 1st Rate.

"I was surprised," Hughes said. "I'd definitely recommend people use 1st Rate — I already told everyone I knew about it."

Hughes, who now works at Aerospace Coatings International in Oxford, is one of 352 people Operation 1st Rate has placed in new jobs as of April 30, a milestone for the program. The Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce's Operation 1st Rate is a federally funded program set up to help find new jobs for former depot employees and other laid-off area defense industry workers. The depot has shed many jobs in recent years, due in part to the end of chemical weapons incineration there and the drawdowns of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

The job program, which began in August 2011, is funded through February 2014 and administrators are applying for a grant extension to February 2015, said Sherri Sumners, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce Foundation and overseer of the program.

Sumners said the program surpassing its 350th job placement marker is a milestone.

"I would not have thought that when we first started, we would have done this well," Sumners said. "When we first started it was such a difficult time for the local and national economy."

Sumners noted that job placements have increased considerably in the last few months, helping the program reach its latest milestone.

"The numbers have jumped pretty dramatically because of the work at Honda," Sumners said.

The Honda automotive manufacturing plant in Lincoln has been expanding for more than a year to increase production.

Hughes said Operation 1st Rate was quite helpful and actually contacted him when he was laid off after six years as a hydraulic mechanic at the depot. While he was at the program's office filling out applications, an employee there discovered a job opening at Aerospace Coatings that required his particular skill set.

"I sent in my resume and they called me the next day," Hughes said.

The program mainly performs job search assistance for residents. However, in recent weeks the program has added new services, such as hiring fairs for specific employers, assistance and funding for entrepreneurs, pre-employment testing and screening along with training in the “Alabama Ready to Work” program through Gadsden State Community College.

Suzanne Zahorscak, education specialist who oversees the skills training division at Gadsden State, said this is the first year the community college has partnered with Operation 1st Rate to offer the Ready to Work program. Zahorscak said it is a 60-hour class that teaches skills to unemployed and underemployed people, such as computer skills, workplace behavior, job acquisition and interview skills and applied mathematics and reading.

"We did something like this in the past, but it has been several years," Zahorscak said. "The ones who are participating seem to be enjoying the class and seem to be learning a lot."

The first class will end May 16 but another will be scheduled later this year, she said.

Sanora Coleman of Anniston decided to enter the course through Operation 1st Rate to improve her computer skills. Coleman was laid off from the depot at the end of March.

"I'm not that good with computers and now I'm learning how to do different programs," Coleman said. "The class is definitely helpful ... for me anyway."

Coleman said she is open to taking various types of jobs but hopes she does not have to leave Calhoun County to find one.

"I'm looking into management fields and general labor," Coleman said. "It doesn't really matter."

The Operation 1st Rate office is located in Quintard Mall and can be reached at 256-770-7245.

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.

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