Pro­gram trains young garbage col­lec­tors amid U.S. short­age

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - MARKETPLACE - By Kristin J. Ben­der

OAK­LAND, CALIF. » Like most lit­tle boys, Corey Lever liked trucks and his fa­vorite was al­ways the garbage truck.

He loved to watch it roar down his Oak­land street, grab­bing the cans and dump­ing the trash into its rear com­part­ment.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school, he bounced be­tween jobs, work­ing for var­i­ous large com­pa­nies and at­tend­ing com­mu­nity col­lege, but noth­ing was a good fit for the en­er­getic, out­doors-lov­ing guy. He tried to be­come a garbage col­lec­tor on his own but didn’t get hired.

Then he heard about a new part­ner­ship be­tween Waste Man­age­ment of Alameda County Inc., Oak­land Civi­corps and unions that gives young adults — of­ten high school dropouts from low-in­come com­mu­ni­ties — a chance to be­come team­ster driv­ers af­ter two years of train­ing.

“It’s the only city garbage fran­chise agree­ment in the coun­try to in­clude a non­profit job train­ing pro­gram,” said Civi­corps Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Alan Les­sik.

The job-train­ing pro­gram comes at a good time for an in­dus­try strug­gling to find driv­ers.

The Amer­i­can Truck­ing As­so­ci­a­tion says a short­age of qual­i­fied ap­pli­cants with a com­mer­cial driver’s li­cense has more than dou­bled since 2011. Its lat­est annual re­port says the na­tion was short roughly 48,000 driv­ers last year, with pro­jec­tions of a higher short­age in years to come.

The short­fall has be­come more ap­par­ent as the econ­omy picks up, said Barry Skol­nick, Waste Man­age­ment’s area vice pres­i­dent for North­ern Cal­i­for­nia and Ne­vada.

“If com­mer­cial con­struc­tion picks up, there are more houses, and (when) routes get big­ger, we need to hire more driv­ers,” he said. “It’s re­ally be­ing driven by the econ­omy. It’s a great job with great ben­e­fits.”

Ap­pren­tices work full time col­lect­ing or­gan­ics from com­mer­cial busi­nesses in Oak­land.

Last year, Civi­corps cre­ated six ap­pren­tice­ships in part­ner­ship with Waste Man­age­ment that can lead to lu­cra­tive jobs with the team­sters and unions as well as non-union ad­min­is­tra­tive jobs.

Truck driver ap­pren­tices earn $20 an hour, and af­ter two years they are el­i­gi­ble for union jobs earn­ing $70,000 an­nu­ally while work­ing to­ward a pen­sion, Les­sik said.

“This job is en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, and I’m do­ing some­thing that kids look up to,” said Lever, now 25 and fin­ished with his first year of train­ing. “I couldn’t get there by my­self, and they helped me get there.”

Even get­ting up at 2:45 a.m. and deal­ing with mag­gots — and worse — on the job doesn’t seem to bother Lever.

“I am thank­ful that they gave me this op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing I wanted to do,” he said.

Will Mon­tolla was once a high school dropout headed to­ward Oak­land gang life, but says the pro­gram changed his life.

“I was in the streets do­ing bad things,” he said.

Mon­tolla had run-ins with law en­force­ment and says he wasn’t looking to get a job. He en­vi­sioned a future in prison or dead. “I made some real dumb de­ci­sions. All I was try­ing to be was the tough­est street kid around.”

Mon­tolla is now 28 and a fa­ther. Through Civi­corps, he earned a high school diploma and en­tered the truck-driv­ing train­ing pro­gram.

“It’s hard work and phys­i­cally de­mand­ing,” he said. “You are al­ways watch­ing out for cars and kids and peo­ple cross­ing the street, but I’ve learned how to work re­ally hard.”

That de­ter­mi­na­tion has not gone un­no­ticed.

Op­er­a­tions Manager Hec­tor Abarca earned his high school diploma through Civi­corps more than 20 years ago and has a good-pay­ing job that sup­ports his four chil­dren. He’s been im­pressed with Lever and Mon­tolla.

“They’ve def­i­nitely set the bar high,” he said. “The next guys who go over there have big shoes to fill.”

Civi­corps Re­cy­cling runs five routes, serv­ing more than 800 com­mer­cial ac­counts, in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, Oak­land In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Mills Col­lege and the Oak­land Uni­fied School District. It also serves more than 750 small busi­nesses in Alameda County.

“It’s re­ally cool to watch these young adults en­joy what they are do­ing and get past any­thing that happened to them be­fore,” said Skol­nick, of Waste Man­age­ment. “It’s a great win-win for them and for us and for Civi­corps, and a win-win for the city of Oak­land.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this photo taken Thurs­day, Oct. 27, 2016, ap­pren­tice garbage man Corey Lever col­lects trash out­side a school in Oak­land, Calif. A new part­ner­ship be­tween Waste Man­age­ment of Alameda County Inc., the non­profit Oak­land Civi­corps and unions gives young adults, of­ten high school dropouts from low-in­come com­mu­ni­ties, a chance to be­come team­ster driv­ers af­ter two years of train­ing. Like most lit­tle boys, Lever liked trucks, but his fa­vorite was al­ways the garbage truck.

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