Growing up, it was not easy for Jacob Rico to find his path. Jacob was raised by a single mother as the middle child of seven, and he had trouble finding subjects he liked in high school. Because of a lack of focus, he began skipping class, “roaming aimlessly,” and ultimately dropped out of school altogether. However, thanks to the services provided by the Workforce and Education Readiness Continuum (WERC) and American YouthWorks, Jacob found his true destination – welding – and is excelling in his field!
While out of school, Jacob began working part-time in the construction industry. He later tried to return to school for his General Education Development (GED), but the large class size made it difficult to have one-on-one time with his instructor. So, he dropped out of the GED program and returned to construction work.
One of Jacob’s friends, who had also dropped out of high school, told him about the American YouthWorks YouthBuild program. As a part of the overall WERC program, American YouthWorks YouthBuild is a career training program that helps young adults learn hands-on constructions skills and green building techniques while constructing houses for low-income, first time homebuyers. Jacob’s flexible schedule allowed him to work part-time on a YouthBuild construction crew while also attending GED preparation courses with a lower instructor-to-student ratio, allowing Jacob more one-on-one time with his instructor. American YouthWorks/WERC paid for Jacob’s GED tests, all of which he passed the first time!
Jacob discussed career options with American YouthWorks/WERC counselors, who encouraged him to explore careers such as automotive mechanic and welding. He had taken an automotive mechanic class in high school and decided he was not interested in that career, so he decided to try welding.
As a part of American YouthWorks/WERC, Jacob completed several introductory and intermediate welding courses at Austin Community College (ACC). “I didn’t like math in school, but once it was put into construction terms, it clicked,” he said. “It became interesting.”
At ACC, Jacob’s welding instructor valued his raw talent and recommended him for an internship at a small welding company. American YouthWorks/WERC paid for Jacob’s 300-hour internship.
By the end of his internship, Jacob had impressed the company so much that he received a full-time job offer! Empowered by the offer, he expanded his job search and accepted a position with a larger company that allowed for more opportunities to learn his craft. “My boss relies on me to do my own job; he trusts me to work fast and hard, to push myself to the limit. I like the independence,” Jacob said.
Not content with one opportunity, Jacob interviewed for and was accepted into the Sheet Metal Workers Union! He has completed the first year of a four-year apprenticeship program and takes union classes such as drafting and welding. “The opportunities are endless,” he said.
Jacob said the American YouthWorks/WERC program gave him valuable knowledge about different careers that he did not receive in high school. “If a high school doesn’t have a lot of extracurricular options, and the student doesn’t have encouragement or knowledge [of career choices], a student might be content to work whatever job he or she can find,” he said. “You have to not be content, always push for more.”
The Workforce and Education Readiness Continuum (WERC) is a City of Austin-funded network of community partners linked to help prepare Austin-area residents to enter or reenter today’s competitive job market. With 38 locations, WERC provides client services ranging from Adult Basic Education (ABE) and English as a Second Language (ESL) to job readiness instruction and occupational training with the goal of empowering clients with the skills they need to advance their employment opportunities and realize their economic potential. For more information, please visit www.wercaustin.com.