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New Fields: A Job Training Program Prepares Farmworkers For The Modern Economy

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When Bill Clinton spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, he quoted a statistic that most people were probably surprised to hear—in a climate of high unemployment, more than three million jobs remain unfilled in America. The reason? Most applicants don’t have the required skills to fill these jobs. In an election year, we hear a lot of political rhetoric about job creation, but how do we create a pool of skilled workers to fill the jobs that currently exist?

Irene Favila understands this problem. Favila works for the nonprofit Motivation Education & Training, Inc. (MET, Inc.). The organization has received funding from the U.S. Department of Labor to help farmworkers find better jobs in the modern economy. After reading about expanding wind farms in West Texas, Favila thought the growing green economy could supply jobs for her clients if they had the proper tools. To Favila, wind energy seemed like a more sustainable industry than farming in Texas.

Most of the estimated 300,000 farmworkers along the Texas-Mexico border live in desperate poverty. They earn little money, and lack benefits and affordable housing. The work can be dangerous; they use heavy machinery and toil in fields sprayed with pesticides. Drought makes jobs unstable. The lifestyle of a migrant family often conflicts with school and creates high dropout rates for the children, who often end up working along side their family to help make ends meet. It’s a lifestyle few people can endure.

Favila has since partnered with Amarillo College where I spent two days observing former farmworkers learning how to work with electrical lines. Since this issue’s publication, all nine of Favila’s clients have received certification and are currently employed constructing electrical steel towers that will transport energy into the grid. The former farmworkers are earning $22-$25 per hour plus benefits.

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Jen Reel was an Observer intern before joining the staff in July 2010, first as Web Editor, and most recently as Multimedia Editor. She received a Masters in Journalism with a concentration in Photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was co-chair for the student chapter of the National Press Photographers Association. She has worked in the non-profit sector for the Peruvian-American Medical Society and has been published in Utne Reader magazine, the Village Voice and Pitchfork Music.