Eighty Fairfax County women have signed up for a federally funded jobs training program that offers alternatives to typing and taking dictation.
They will study to become computer technicians, or middle-management administrators, and learn to repair washing machines, dryers, refrigerators and ovens, among other skills.
The women students include teen-ages and middle-aged housewives. They are black, white, Oriental and Spanish-speaking. Some never received a high school diploma; others have attended college. Many are economically strapped; a few have incomes of more than $15,000 a year.
"Our new programs are aimed at breaking down the stereotypes governing what sex fills what job," said Michael Gilbert, director of Fairfax County's department of manpower services, which developed the jobs training course. "But we had some problem selling this program at first; a lot of women were hestitant about trying new kinds of work. Some thought they had to be 6-foot-4 Albert Einsteins to repair computers."
The funds for the training program, designed to give women jobs traditionally held by men, come from a $300,000 special grant awarded to Fairfax County in September by the U.S. Department of Labor under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, Fairfax County was one of 83 man-power jurisdictions in the country to be awarded the grant for developing employment opportunities for those who have difficulty competing in the labor market. Women, the handicapped, minority ethnic groups, youth and the aged are among those considered vocationally disadvantaged by the Labor Department.
Only one of the courses has been filled. Others offer a few slots and some courses are still being devleopeed.
"We're very flexible in arranging these courses," Gilbert added. "If enough women called to express interest in a carpentry course, we could probably set one up."
The only course "set and ready to go," according to Gilbert, is a class to train computer technicians at the Control Data Institue in Arlington. Fifteen women are enrolled in the six-month course that began last week. The classes, 7:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, will teach students how to repair and service large computers.
"The nice thing about this course is that there very definitely are jobs at the other end," Gilbert said. "The point of jobs training is not just to get people trained, but to get them employed."
He added that salaries in this field range between $9,000 and $11,000 a year.
Angela Vaillancourt of Falls Church, 24, is one of the students enrolled in the computer course. She said she had been looking for work in a machine shop in the Washington area since moving here with her husband in May. She went to Manpower after having no success at finding a job in the field where she had experience - operating a computerized metal trimmer.
"When they offered me training in computers, I thought they were looking at the wrong person," Mrs. Vaillancourt recallled. "Frankly, I didn't think I had the intelligence for the job.I only have a high school education."
After passing a screening test for the course, Mrs. Vaillancourt is convinced she is able to do the job and anxious for classes to start. For her, the course means "trying my wings at something new and making enough money to get a good start on the future."
To train the 15 computer students will cost Fairfax Manpower about $75,000, a Manpower spokesman said. This course is filled, but another is expected to begin in April.
A course in housing management is expected to begin March 1 at the National Center for Housing Management in Washington. About 40 women have signed up for the course, although no more than 15 will be able to enter the class under a $28,000 contract Manpower expects to sign shortly with the center.
The year-long course will include four months of classroom sessions, practical experience in the field and certification required by federal law to manage public housing complexes.
"There is a higher risk involved in finding a job in this field, because housing is a tricky business," Gilbert said. But it is solid mid-level administrative position, one that calls for a lot of responsibility and offers a solid salary."
Housing management, which involves managing housing resident managers and maintenance crews, of large multi-unit complexes, offers salaries ranging from $8,000 starting to about $15,000, Gilbert estimates.
"Hopefully the classes will offer something for everyone," Gilbert said. "Younger women would be more apt to be hired in the computer field, while housing employers would be more attracted to older women, some of whose skills managing families could apply to other types of management."
Manpower also plans to contract with the Northern Virginia Skills Center in Arlington to provide courses in small appliance repair. More than 15 women have signed up for the six-month course expected to begin March 1 and give training in repairing ovens, washers, dryers, microwave ovens and refrigerators.
"This type of work would pay about $10,000 a year in a large compay," Gilbert said. To train 15 women at the skills center would cost Manpower about $46,700.
He added that Manpower is looking for a firm to teach television repair courses that offer cerification on graduation.
"We're still looking around for courses in the area," said Sharon Collier, contract administrator for Fairfax Manpower. "Those that offer certification seem to be in Maryland and it would be too difficult for most of our clients to travel that far for a daily course. We expect to have lots of takers, though, when this course gets going."
Other courses being studied by Manpower include training in public and private management, "which would help a lot of unemployable women with college degrees in sociology, English and psychology," Gilbert said.
Almost all the special grant money has been allocated for the jobs training program, Gilbert said. About $34,500 went toward hiring three new Manpower staffers as counselors and job development specialists.
Gilbert said if many more women expressed interest in some of these non-traditional jobs, more slots could be created by supplementing the grant money by other CETA funds. He added that Manpower will provide day care services to all women with children enrolled in the courses.
In the meantime, women may enroll in Manpower's standard courses usually studied by men. They include carpentry, auto body repair, mechanics, plumbing, building maintenance and electrician training.
Gilbert and Collier also are investigating ways to offer women training in auto sales, insurance sales, printing and making estimates for moving and storage firms.
"You see a few women working in these areas already," Collier said. "But you never see any in auto sales. How many women buy cars in this area, and buy them from men who think they know nothing about cars? Women could be great car sales people."