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Track Switch: TCU/IAM Job Corps Program Delivers Careers

Darnell Brooks
By Kenneth Quinnell

In a tough economy, how does a kid from a rough-and-tumble neighborhood go about finding a good job that pays well or obtain the skills needed to become the worker employers want to hire?

One path is through the TCU/IAM Job Corps Program. In 1971, TCU/IAM partnered with the U.S. Department of Labor to provide advanced transportation training to young people looking for careers. Today, hundreds of students take part in the program each year and more than 8,400 young men and women have been placed in meaningful jobs in rail, mass transit and airline companies since its inception.

And good-paying jobs—the average starting wage is nearly $5 per hour more than most states’ minimum wage.

Oneckia Davis studied at the Atlanta Job Corps Center and is just one of many success stories from the program. “I stayed very focused on the reason I was there, which was to get a transportation job,” says Davis. “I completed the program and had a job within six months.”

The program takes six to 12 months, on average, for a student to complete the six core courses designed to give students a solid footing in the industry and then advance to concentrated, industry-specific coursework for careers such as rail freight service worker, rail freight clerk, rail mechanical worker, airline service worker, rail data entry clerk, rail passenger clerk or mass transit/highway service worker.

Upon completion of the program, students are not left to find work on their own. TCU/IAM has a national network of employers with industry-leading companies such as Amtrak, the Norfolk Southern Railway, CSX-T, Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad, the Union Pacific Railroad and the Metro Transit Authority of Los Angeles, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and American West Airlines. Program staff arrange for employment interviews and go as far as to go with students to interview sites. Financial assistance is even available to help program graduates relocate for jobs. 

“TCU/IAM was my second chance in life,” says Ricardo Arroyo, a graduate of the Excelsior Springs Jobs Corps Center. “I made the most of it and TCU/IAM didn't let me down. Now I'm working for one of the best companies in the world.”

The training students receive goes well beyond the typical training program and makes program graduates strong employees. Nine months after starting his career, Darnell Brooks identified a broken wheel set on a train during a routine inspection. The problem was not a common one but the training Brooks got through TCU/IAM led him to spotting it and making sure it was fixed before it caused a derailment, which would've been unsafe and costly. He was rewarded by being inducted into the TTX "Wheel Club" and given a monetary reward and a plaque.

Program graduates offer no shortage of praise for the program and the training it provided them. Lamar Oten, who studied at the Westover Jobs Corps Center, is perhaps most direct: “It saved my life.”

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