Frank Gulluni likes to show the letters.
He pulls out one from the rapidly growing Digital Equipment Corp., a computer firm, praising the technical competence and the attitude of his trainees, black and white alike. He offers another from Smith & Wesson, a maker of moderate- to high-priced firearms, thanking him for "referring qualified candidates for jobs." He points to one from Dow Jones & Co. Inc. that says the people the company hired from Gulluni's Hampden District Regional Skills Center "are some of the best qualified and certainly the most motivated employes we now have on our staff."
Gulluni, 37, a redheaded Italian with a slight paunch, bounds from his seat.
"We're doing a job here!" he says with evangelical zeal. "We have a commitment to training here. That's it. Training is the answer, not this public service employment b - t."
Gulluni blushes. He is not easily given to vulgarity, but sometimes, especially when he talks about the skills center, he gets a little excited.
What Gulluni and his staff have done is, indeed, phenomenal. They have taken a much-maligned, much-investigated, scandal-scarred federal jobs program and made it work through their skills center. Their placement rate of 80 to 85 percent is regarded by Labor Department officials as one of the highest in the nation.
The program is CETA, shorthand for the 1973 Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, originally designed to help the hard-core unemployed.
But Gulluni, administrator of the $30 million Hampden County CETA program in western Massachusetts, and his supporters believe the "feds" goofed when they put the program into operation.
The federal government put too much emphasis on immediate employment, especially employment in entry level and unskilled public service jobs that only lasted a year to 18 months, Gulluni said.
The public service jobs program, one large chunk of CETA, was susceptible, because of its emergency orientation, to abuses such as payroll fraud and the hiring of political friends. Gulluni conceded that he has similar problems in the public service section of his CETA operation.
But he said he isn't too concerned about the fraud, because it is minimal in comparison to CETA's overall $10 billion operation. He said his main worry is that many people who complete their public service employment terms have no makeable skills in the private sector, and eventually wind up on welfare or in another federal antipoverty program.
"The problem is that the government seems to have forgotten about the "T" in CETA," Gulluni said.
The "T" is very important to the 76 people who make up the skills center staff. Every weekday at 8 a.m. they troop into two old industrial buildings on the city's Main Street to begin undoing the legacy of poverty, poor education and international turmoil.
besides blacks, whites and Spanish surnamed students, the center, which operates on a budget of $1.25 million - also includes a sprinkling of Vietnamese, Russian Jews, Koreans and at least one Lebanese.
The center's staff consists of former public school educators, like Gulluni, and former industrial foremen and skilled crafts workers, former businessmen and secretaries. They will train about 1,200 people this year, about 1,000 of whom, based on past performance - will find permanent unsubsidized, usually good-paying jobs.
"You can't get very much better than that," one department official said. "If we had that kind of a record in all or our programs we wouldn't have to worry so much."
After a 20-to-25-week session, the Hampden County Center staff will "produce" people like Mary Johnson, 31, black, a former welfare mother, who recently got a promotion in her job as a machinist at a Digital Equipment plant here.
Johnson finished her skill center training early last year and has been working at Digital ever since, she said she had tried to get jobs before her center experience, "but nobody would hire me because there wasn't much I could do."
Now, working the night shift at Digital and making "pretty good pay," about $9,300 annually, she said she believes she has a future.
"My two kids respect me a lot more now," she said. "They keep telling me, 'Momma, you getting on up there, ain't you?"
The center will also retrain former workers like Frank Hill, 56 white, who fell ill and has been living on Social Security disability payments for the past few years.
"Most folks don't want to train older people in industry," said the rotund, bespectacled Hill. "You can't blame them, because it does take time. But I got some extra training and brushed up on some machine skills here. I start work on Monday."
Hill was a former machine shop foreman. But he said he had "forgotten nearly everything" since he had been out of work, and he had lost confidence, especially in face of the onslaught of new industrial technology. But the skills center helped him overcome all of that, he said.
Gulluni and David Cruise, the center's top supervisor, will tell you that their 80-85 percent placement rate is no miracle.
Springfield, the largest city in Hampden County, has a 5.7 percent unemployment rate, compared to a national unemployment rate of a 6 percent. In the last five years, the county itself has attracted more than $400 million worth of new industrial and commercial ventures, creating about 10,000 new production jobs.
But businessmen here say that most of the ppeople who got to the center would have been out of the running for those jobs had it not been for Gulluni, Cruise and company.
"The biggest thing about the skills center is that they deal with more than just skills," said Micheal Niziolek, a personal manager for Milton Bradley co., which produces electronic games.
They take people who might have had some serious problems, for one reason or another, and they help them to develop good, work attitudes. You take the center's extensive training setup, put it with an attitude development, and you have an excellent employe," he said.
Nizolek said that about 125 of the 1,200 people employed by his company were taken from the center's electronics and clerical programs.
We're extremely satisfied with most of these people," he said. "Some of them, of course, didn't work out. But most of them are excellent . . .They have good safety habits. They punch the clock on time, dress decently, and are highly motivated workers," he said.
Niziolek said he doubts his company would have hired most of the center graduates had they been "walk-ins off the street".
The skills center's credibility is due largely to the way it is run.
The center's supervisors have a reputation for thoroughly researching their market to find out the long-term employe and skills needs of the regional business and industrial firms.
They then design specific programs - accounting, electronics assembly, and computer technology are examples - to meet the needs of the regional market.
Trainees are "assessed" before they begin the program to determine interests and remedial needs, such as mathematics, reading and English skills, to help fulfill those interests. If remedial instruction is required, it is given in tandem with the occupational training. The reason: "You will learn to read and write more quickly if you have an onjective," says Gulluni.
Attiudinal development takes place in"world of work classes" where trainees are taught the importance of promptness, job demeanor, employer-employe relationships and, in an ethnically mixed area like Hampden County, how to "get along" in an interracial shop or office.
The trainees are pushed toward "primarily jobs," those with health-welfare benefit packages, vacation provisions, and some degree of upward mobility.
"To do otherwise would be a waste of the trainees's time and the governments money," said Cruise. "It would also be a waste of humanity . . . That's why we don't keep certain programs like refrigerator repair, for which there if no market and no need. Unfortunately, a lot of CETA centers don't see this.
Gulluni believes the success of this training program can be duplicated. And there are those in the federal government who believe he's right.
President Carter and other administration officials last week outlined a program designed to link private business more closely to the training and hiring of the hard-core unemployed.
The administration's CETA proposal, now before Congress, targets $400 million of the $11.4 Billion in federal jobs money to the creation of "private industry councils." The "PIC's," as they are called by those in the manpower business, are supposed to foster greater cooperation among private industry, organized labor and vocational education directors in the training and placement of the hard-to-employ.
Cruise and his staff constantly monitor the progress of their trainees and the job market. Frequently, they invite businessmen in to look at their program, to evaluate the training curriculum, to talk to the trainees and to make suggestions for improvement. As a result, a number of the trainees are chosen by companies weeks before their training has ended.
"They do a better job of placing their people because they're much more aggressive, much more employer-relations conscious," said Mark Conners, vice president of the Valley Bank & Trust Co., one of the county's major finiancial institutions.
Conners said the "primary source" of his firm's employes if newspaper advertising. But he said the bank has been "actively using" the skills center since 1976 and has found that the center graduates - most of them employed in clerical positions - work as well or better, and stay on the job longer, than other workers.
At a Digital plant in West Springfield, personnel manager Walter Brown is singing similar praises. But he said he is not baffled by the center's success.
"It's easy to understand," he said. "The skills center is efficient at training people for jobs because it has to be. Their funding depends on it."