HARPERS FERRY – The new director of the Harpers Ferry Job Corps Center said he is working hard to improve the prospects of students graduating and entering the job market.
Ralph DiBattista, who took the helm in March, has worked at Job Corps centers around the nation since the early 1980s, even serving as a deputy director of the program for a time. He first came to Harpers Ferry in 2009, and when the position of director came open he snapped up the job. The center is one of a system 125 such training sites throughout the nation that were created in the mid-’60s.
The center currently serves over 200 students.
“(Students are) eligible because they are financially disadvantaged. They come in and earn their high school diploma or GED,” said DiBattista, adding that the school was working to strengthen its vocational training programs to help graduates find gainful employment after leaving the center.
Gwendolyn Ford, who has worked at the center since 2001, gave DiBattista a glowing endorsement.
“The biggest change has been Mr. DiBattista,” she said. “He knows how to make things work positively. I can’t say enough great things about him.”
Hamid Rasouly, who graduated from the center in April and enlisted with the US Army, said the training center opened up a world of new possibilities for him.
Rasouly said he was stuck working minimum wage jobs in Philadelphia for years, unable to find better work because he lacked a high school diploma. When he heard about the opportunities offered at the center, he jumped at the chance.
“It’s had a tremendous impact on me. I got my education here, my GED, in October,” he said. “It really gives you a good perspective on life. You learn not to take things for granted. I’m really fortunate and blessed to be a part of this.”
DiBattista said he has been working to build the presence of U.S. Army recruiters at the center. Free ASVAB tests – a prerequisite for joining the military – are administered on campus, and each month some graduates opt for service in one of the branches of the military, DiBattista said.
“It is a nice future for them, but they are also able to serve the country,” DiBattista said. “What we really want to strengthen is our relationship with the U.S. military. When our students complete here they either go on to employment, advanced training, college or the military.”
In addition to having the option of joining the armed services, students can also receive extensive vocational training and certification.
“We want to make sure that our students earn industry-recognized credentials in their fields so that when they go to start their careers within industry they have their credentials already in hand,” DiBattista said. “It really shows the relevance of the curriculum here to employers.”
With graduates entering the worst job market in many decades, the center also places particular emphasis on helping students build links to future employers and preparing them for the job-seeking process.
“It is a tough, competitive job market out there right now, but that makes this a good time for training. You’ll build up the training and skills that you need and set up prospects before you leave the program, ” he said. “What we want to do is make sure that they have options lined up before they leave so that they are not standing in long job lines after they leave.” To that end, the center works with students to build resumés, portfolios, and job references. DiBattista said the center has been successful at placing its graduates in relevant jobs after they finish their studies. He said their placement rate is around 70 percent, with some students moving on to the Pentagon, Federal Reserve banks and other federal agencies.
“The opportunities for students who apply themselves are unlimited,” DiBattista said.