By Erin Delmore
“I used to do it just by hand, then happened the computer revolution,” said Juan Guerra.
Guerra is a graphic designer, he’s been out of work for two years. He’s hoping to earn a spot in one of Newark’s job training programs to become a web developer.
“It looked like my skills were obsolete, so I try to upgrade myself, doing some kind of web so I could take my work online,” he said.
Representatives from Newark City Hall introduced the program to unemployed residents — 144 hours of instruction over 12 weeks and a laptop, all free.
“If you’re interested and you’re committed, this will work for you,” said Newark Chief Information Officer Seth Wainer.
It’s the latest effort to stem the unemployment crisis in New Jersey’s biggest city. Mayor Ras Baraka said Newark needs to create 6,000 jobs, just to bring its unemployment rate in line with the rest of the state.
“First, I should apologize. We’re almost a full year in the mayor’s term and I could show you a plan we wrote up where we would have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people in a pipeline where ever they are, and meet them wherever they are, and get this going. And the apology is, we’re kind of late getting this going, alright,” said Wainer.
The state is celebrating its lowest unemployment rate in seven years, 5.7 percent, down slightly from 6.1 percent in July. But unemployment in Newark towered at 9.7 percent that same month. That’s one out of every 10 adults in Newark without a job, not counting people who’ve stopped looking altogether.
Isaiah Little from the Office of Information Technology isn’t surprised by the turnout here or at the Mayor’s recent Tech Town Hall. He says an investment in tech will pay dividends, whether residents join the ranks at Audible — headquartered nearby — or start their own companies. And with junior web developers earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year, it’s an enticing prospect.
“What are the potential career paths? Essentially by the end of this you’ll be a front end web designer,” said Little.
But the competition is tough, the class is only open to unemployed residents of Newark. To get in, you have to demonstrate an ability to read and do math at the eighth grade level, complete around 17 hours worth of web-based exercises to show computer literacy, and submit a 250-word essay on why they want to be in the class.
About 75 people showed up for web development training, there are 20 spots in the class. Program administrators say they’ll keep launching sessions to meet demand. They hope to start the first class during the first week of October.
Chasing the Dream: Poverty and Opportunity in America is a multi-platform public media initiative that provides a deeper understanding of the impact of poverty on American society. Major funding for this initiative is provided by The JPB Foundation. Additional funding is provided by Ford Foundation.