April 16, 2009


Garland gives nod to training farmworkers


GARLAND — Although economic woes have decreased employment opportunities for many individuals, Garland town board members unanimously agreed Tuesday to open training positions for seasonal and migrant farmworkers in order for them to gain the experience needed to enter the workforce.

Telamon Corporation, located at the Sampson County Employment Security Commission, is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide employment and training services, both short- and long-term, to 2,000 migrant and seasonal farmworkers each year.

A handful of those 2,000 farmworkers, officials revealed, are located in Garland, and while they want to work in a traditional environment, their lack of experience hinders those opportunities.

Therefore, in order to obtain a reasonable resume, the one-time farmworkers will first need to gain experience through hands-on training in a public sector job, much like the town of Garland.

“Work experience,” Telamon Corporation case manager Enrique Torres began, “is a federally-funded employment opportunity for the ex-farmworker.”

Basically, Telamon provides work experience for migrant and seasonal clients that have never been exposed to a traditional work atmosphere by placing them in a public sector job, such as a worker in a hospital, health department or town for a three-month, or 480-hour, training period.

“During this period, the client is establishing work history and experience,” Torres revealed.

Case manager Richardo Paniagua chimed in, “He (hypothetical farmworker) is an employee of Telamon Corporation, but in return he will be working for the town of Garland.”

Although Torres considered this a “best of both worlds situation,” because the town is getting labor done for free, questions were still brought to the table by board members.

Commissioner S.J. Smith asked, “Can they do any kind of work? We’ve had people who come on grants that wouldn’t let them climb on ladders or pick up rash from the side of the road.”

Smith furthered that it was not due to a physical inability; rather, because of strict rules set forth through the grant.

“Do you have rules?” Smith reworded.

Paniagua reassured Smith, and the rest of the board, by emphasizing that no rules would prohibit such duties as picking up the trash, digging ditches, mowing or electrical work, to name a few.

“I can tell you, if we have someone with us they are liable to be picking up trash, digging holes ... There is no set position,” mayor Anthony Johnson explained.

“There may be a time when Garland needs an electrician, so he would do that,” Paniagua illustrated, adding that the trainee would have to do it under the supervision of a superior, much like any new trainee.

“As we do with any trainee,” Johnson voiced, “they go with someone and observe. They can get a lot of experience by watching Ricky put in a sewer line.”

Because “not everyone makes it into Telamon Corporation,” Paniagua listed the non-profit’s criteria — background checks, driver licenses, must have spent at least two years as a farmworker and 50 percent of their income had to come from farm labor. A dependent of a farmworker may be eligible through proof of this dependent status.

Commissioner Elizabeth Johnson clarified, “It can’t just be someone who hasn’t had a job in while?”

“No,” Paniagua responded.

However, because the farmworker would be training in the town of Garland, board members stressed to Paniagua that they would have to go through the application process much like anyone else interested in a position, which would entail a drug test.

“That is one thing we have in the application when we hire someone, they have to take a drug test,” Johnson stressed.

Paniagua returned that the corporation has the funds to pay for this process when needed.

Because the town will be dealing with the trainee directly through Telamon, Johnson noted that an interview would take place and Paniagua should be present.

“If the town is agreeable, then you would bring the person in to be interviewed?” Johnson inquired. “Basically, it will be the same process as anyone else because we would need to feel comfortable with the person.”

“What about liability?” Johnson further questioned. Paniagua explained that the trainee is covered entirely through Telamon Corporation.

“And,” Johnson continued, “upon any problems he/she would be removed immediately?”

“Yes, no problem,” said Paniagua.

“Then you will go through your end and let them know that they are expected to be at work every day,” Johnson made clear, and Paniagua responded that he was correct.

According to Paniagua, several residents in the Garland area currently qualify, and are ready to fill out applications “as soon as possible.”

“We would make a motion first as a board. We appreciate you coming and this is something we are definitely going to consider because it would help us too, especially in the summer months,” Johnson expressed to Paniagua.

After Paniagua exited, a motion was made to move forward with Telamon Corporation. It was seconded and unanimously approved.

In addition to the work experience, the Telamon Corporation also provides on-the-job training to individuals that qualify.

These individuals would work in private sectors, or establishments, in order to gain not only experience, but an income.

Basically, the business would pay the individual wages and train them; however, Telamon Corporation will reimburse the business 50 percent of the trainee’s salary. Eventually the trainee will be hired for a regular position.

On-the-job trainee Esmeralda Joya is currently utilizing this program through the Kirby Law Firm in Clinton.

According to Joya, she is gaining experience with traffic cases, courthouse scenarios, interpreting and phone etiquette, and she said she is looking forward to remaining in this position once hired.