When Giles Fields graduated from Eastern High School, he did not have enough money to go to college or the skills to get a job.
Last October, Fields enrolled in Project Build, a federally-funded Washington area job training program. He completed the program in February.
Today, Fields still does not have enough money to go to college nor the skills to get a job.
"What did I learn? Wow, that's a pretty wild question," Fields said of his Project Build experience. "Let's see. I was in the welding shop. But now I'm looking for work that has nothing to do with welding."
With his building trades training, Fields said, "You can put up a light or a dog house, but in my day-to-day life I'm not going to find a welding job that pays the money. Overall, though, the project is all right for those who want to help themselves. I mean, it does give you something extra when you look for a job . . ."
While there are exceptions, Fields' situation is typical of many youths who enter job training programs. "We have a new cycle graduating in June," said Roland Williams, director of Project Build, who was not optimistic about the job market. "We're being told (by employers), 'Thank you, Project Build. If and when we need someone, we'll look to you.'"
Project build is one of 14 federally-funded jobs programs here that are administered by the city's manpower agency with grants from Title I of the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA).
Last year 16,000 city residents sought jobs and training from the manpower agency. Of that number, only about 5,000 were placed in jobs. (Another 5,000, termed "positively terminated," went back to school or joined the armed forces.) According to manpower econimist William B. Clatanoff Jr., of the 5,000 placed in jobs after training only 3,000 were still working at those jobs 60 days later.
The overall accomplishment boils down to this: Of all those who successfully completed the major training programs in Washington, less than one out of three was on the job 60 days after leaving the training class.
For many enterprises, that sort of success rate would be intolerable. But, by the standards of CETA nad other federal job-training programs here and in other cities, if is not unusual. The investment is large and the return is often slim.
Thomas Wilkins, the city's manpower director, accepts these results with a certain sense of resignation. Project Build and the other programs he supervises, he observes, deal in a tough commodity - people with no basic skills in a city market where the number of low-skill jobs decline annually. A degree of failure is inevitable.
"It's a philosophical question," he said. "Who do you want to take into training? Do you take only high school graduates or do you take the dropouts, too? If you took only graduates, you might get a 75 per cent placement, but you'd be overlooking a lot of people who need help."
Even more arresting is the absence of either training or placement from many major federal job programs operating here and around the country. In some respects, the concept of training the unskilled and finding them work has been abandoned.
More money, these days, is targeted for public service jobs with the city government and summertime youth work - programs that pay salaries but do not include training and do not assume that at some point the person will be placed in unsubsidized jobs.
The District's experience last year graphically illustrates the national trend. More than $42 million in federal funds was spent under various employment and training programs in fiscal year 1976. But less than a third of it went for programs that had any vestiges of either training or job replacement. Much of the remainder went into public service jobs, which are assigned by the city's Office of Budget and Management Systems.
Neither of those trends - low job-placement rates and the shift to subsidized jobs - is unique to the District. They are common to the programs funded nationally by the Department of Labor, and both have been accentuated by the recession of the early 1970's.
There are about 130,000 persons between 18 and 25 years old living in Washington. The unemployment rate is estimated at about 21 per cent for this group, but that does not include some 30,000 persons considered "discouraged" workers who are not seeking jobs.
Many Washington area businessmen see the unemployment problem as the result of a decline in blue collar jobs and a reduction in turnovers as the job market tightens.
William Gordon, the District's postmaster, cited a correlation between public support programs - such as zip code, mail early and mail preparation - his need for fewer employees at the Post Office.
Recently, Joseph B. Danzansky, president of Giant Fod, Inc., called last week on area businessmen to provide 70,000 jobs for youths in Washington, asserting that the area's business community had the best record nationally by already providing 38,000 summer jobs.
"Failure to do so is not only inhumane, but short sighted, for many of these same youths become disillusioned and turn to crime preying on our business community."
Manpower officials have said there is little hope that they can reduce the unemployment rate, but merely predict what kinds of jobs may be available in the future, train youths for them, and focus more on shortening one's stay on unemployment.
Manpower director Wilkins said, "The city has no coordinated effort to attract light industry to the city. Without it, there is not much to be done for many of our youths."
Project Build is one of the most highly lauded job training programs in the Washington area. It offers pre-apprenticeship training in carpentry, masonry, metal work and other construction related fields. Established following the riots of 1968, Project Build was described in brochures as a place where youths 18 to 25 could receive $1.85 an hour while training five days a week, and after 12 weeks be "placed in the right job."
"I've been trying to just forget about that whole program," Larry Yarborough, a February graduate of Project Build, said recently. "I don't have a job, nobody's helping me find one. I'm back where I started. I might as well forget about them because they've forgotten about me."
Like other unsuccessful graduates, Yarborough is not sure what went wrong. "Maybe I was expecting too much. I guess it was too good to be true. I tried really hard to apply myself because it eas last chance; either get a job or join the Army."
Richard Talbert was one of the more fortunate graduates. He is now a sander with a local construction firm and earns $5 an hour.
"Before I heard about it I was lost," said Talbert, a 19-year-old high school dropout. "I woke up some mornings with bad headaches after I dropped out of school . . . I could feel myself wasting away. I was skeptical about the training program at first, but near the end I hooked up this job and my life has changed all around."
Project Build officials said they could place all of their trainees in jobs before the slump in the construction industry here.
"Used to be able to place 'em all," said Williams, the project's director. "Now, employers are hiring journeymen at apprenticeship levels, at low wages. It's en employers' market. They're actually in a position to bid on people - they see two people sitting there and think which one can I get the cheapest."
Last October, Project Build took over an abandoned warehouse at 21 M St NE. For on-the-job experience, program trainees began renovating the building.
"The building was in bad shape," said Todaleyo Qualls, 21, an Anacostia High School drop out. "For about three weeks I just sat around. It seemed like they didn't think a woman could do anything so the instructor was partial to men. When I finally was able to get into a workshop, my instructor almost stopped coming to class. I very seldom learned anything."
Thomas Young, the project's technical director, said "It (the building) was hell. And getting it together put me through hell. It was hard work, but that's the construction business. You just got to jump in there and do it. This ain't civil service. You get what you can take."
"It's real bad," Young said. "For the past two years, with the construction slump, the unions have had a list of minorities waiting for jobs longer than our list. It used to be that it took up to 30 men to put up a house. Now the homes arrive at the site on trucks, pre-cut. So five men can pop one up in time."
"We've tried to find jobs for these kids. But the fact is there aint' none."
"So I graduated," complained Veronica Shaw, 21, a Ballou High dropout. "I get a certificate saying I'm a steam pipe fitter but all I really know is how to hand neating ducts, but I know how to do that better than the boys. I tried to find a job myself but everytime I say my name is Veronica, they (employers) change the subject."
David Wilson, who graduated from Project Build and who has been working odd jobs outside the construction industry specialty, he studied, said, "When we started the program we knew there were no guarantees. It seemed that veryone who had enrolled didn't have another choice."
"For many guys it was Project Build or the service. I say the instructors did all they could. They tried to find jobs, some of them tried to get jobs for themselves. But couldn't.
"When there are construction jobs available that's when this would be a good program. So maybe next year when I tell someone I can lay brick they won't frown."
"I don't feel good abour the situation, either," said Young, the project's technical director. "But I'll wager that we do more good than harm."
Next: Bureacratic snarls in D.C. manpower training system.