Job training program gets high marks

March 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Bay Area success story is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month. It's a job training program for low-income people, and it's showing remarkable results even during tough economic times.

At LEN Business and Language Institute, students are working on English in one corner. Others are learning computer skills, bookkeeping, polishing their resumes or practicing for job interviews.

It's a modern day version of the one-room school house -- adult students with a wide range of backgrounds studying the basics of how to get a job.

"We have students who have never touched a computer before, that barely speak English -- and we have students who might have a masters degree or even a doctorate," said Nancy Rynd, founder and director of the job training program.

Set up to feel more like a busy office than a school, everyone at LEN Institute works at their own level. But they all share one thing.

"All of the students are struggling. Ninety-nine percent of the students have children that they need to support," Rynd said

Rynd and her husband Tom Ahrens founded the LEN Institute 20 years ago. They take about 140 students a year. Many are on public assistance, and some are in the United States on political asylum.

The students are referred by social service agencies that pay the tuition, which comes to $4,500 for four months. The hope is that at the end of the program, the students will be able to secure a job.

"Thirty-three percent of the contract is based on placement, so if we don't place a student, we only get 66 percent of the tuition," Rynd said.

LEN is putting up impressive numbers in a field where good news is hard to come by. The San Francisco Human Services Agency says last year 78 percent of students they sent to LEN finished the training, and 65 percent of those got jobs.

Adrienne Lawrence is one of them. She got a job as an office coordinator at a real estate agency. "They honestly made me believe in myself," Lawrence said.

A political refugee from Togo who got a job as a student advisor at UC Berkeley also credits LEN. "That makes me believe in the process of all immigrants who are here who can make a better life if they got support," Yawo Akpawu said.

One key to LEN's success is an internship program. While students are in school they also do two months of work in a real office.

Tatiana Gaiju did hers at San Francisco Orthopaedic Trauma Institute. She said: "I was really nervous and I was really trying to be my best, but I knew I had the background and knowledge."

Gaiju did so well she got a full-time job at the office. But even when that doesn't happen, the internships are a win for both students and employers.

It's an "opportunity for us to bring people in to help them train," said John Houston, administrative director at the trauma institute. At the same time, his organization gets some extra help.

With the promise of well-trained workers grateful to get a chance, LEN is hoping to attract more employers to its program.

Employer interested in hiring LEN Institute students as interns or full-time employees can visit the program's website, Facebook page or contact them by e-mail.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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