- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Norman Moore wants to provide his son, Norman Jr., a better life. Mr. Moore is a single dad with no job and no money, so he and his toddler son live on public assistance in transitional housing in Northwest Washington.

“But this is not what I want for us,” Mr. Moore says.

“I want to get a job; I want to be a role model for him,” he says, nodding toward the 20-month-old trying to wrestle out of his arms.

It’s a scene reminiscent of actor Will Smith and his son, Jaden, in the 2006 movie “The Pursuit of Happyness,” a true story about a talented but poor and homeless single dad who eventually reaches the top.

As a first step toward his goal, Mr. Moore brought his son to a recent downtown recruitment fair held by the Coalition for the Homeless (www.dccfh.org). He is among at least 100 job seekers and a dozen recruiters.

But this event is a little different from most recruitment fairs. It doesn’t offer actual jobs but rather apprenticeships within the blue-collar sector - a male-dominated sector especially hard hit during this recession. Unemployment numbers indicate that of total jobs lost, more than 80 percent have been lost to men. In the black community, the corresponding number is 100 percent. Most of the job seekers at this fair are black.

The first table where Mr. Moore stops is for Thrive DC, a local nonprofit that provides basic items - toiletries, showers, meals - to the homeless but also offers some on-the-job training positions. Currently, an apprenticeship is open for a cook. (The application deadline for the position is Wednesday; for more information, visit www.thrivedc.org or call 202/737-9311.)

Cook is something Mr. Moore says he can do, and he plans to submit an application. With only one open slot, however, he knows the competition is steep.

Nevertheless, Jessica Macleod, director of social services for Thrive DC, touts the apprenticeship.

“You learn everything from food safety to how to cut and prepare different kinds of meat,” Ms. Macleod says. “You also get to supervise volunteers. It’s great on-the-job training that really goes beyond an ordinary kitchen environment.”

A few tables over is recruiter Larry Barker with the Road Sprinkler Fitters UA Local Union No. 669, who is handing out information about what it takes - and pays - to become a fitter.

Not bad.

First-year apprentices make from $15 to $17 an hour with a raise every six months. The apprenticeship, which qualifies for health benefits and a pension, aside from practical work also requires theory and testing, which can be done by correspondence courses and/or at local community colleges.

It doesn’t happen overnight, however. It takes five years and 10,000 hours to become a fitter. On the other hand, a fitter makes about $75,000 a year, plus benefits.

“You do this, and you’ve got a profession, not just a job,” says Ace Morris, a job seeker at the fair. Mr. Morris is working toward becoming a master electrician - unfortunately, there are no electrician representatives at the fair - which follows a similar apprenticeship plan.

Says Ernest Miller, employment coordinator for the Coalition for the Homeless, “You’re basically getting a valuable education for free when you’re doing an apprenticeship. And another important aspect of these jobs is that you’re making a livable wage.”

That’s exactly what Mr. Moore wants for himself and his son: a livable wage so they can exchange their studio for a two-bedroom apartment.

“So he can have his own room,” Mr. Moore says, mouth smiling but eyes close to tears.

To get a job, however, he has to be reachable, and at the moment, his cell-phone service has been cut off because of unpaid bills. It’s a vicious, depressing cycle, but Mr. Moore says he refuses to give up.

“I’m going to find something, and we’re going to be OK,” he says, still masterfully entertaining and holding the wriggling toddler. “I want a good life for him.”

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