An internship propelled me from homelessness to full-time employment

Just a few years ago, I was struggling with issues of homelessness, addictions and incarceration.

Today, I have a full-time job as a machine operator at Fastener Innovation Technology, where I help set up and calibrate their cutting machines. Our operations form the heads of screws and fasteners with the precision needed to meet the specifications of the aerospace and defense industries.

I am where I am now because of a internship opportunity through Compton College, and because the Los Angeles County and Compton College Social Services Education Programs were created a way which allowed me to have a better life for me and my family. More public-private partnerships like this are needed to address the various situations and challenges that we as students face.

My trajectory to and through higher education has not been linear. My parents immigrated from Mexico to the United States and settled in East Los Angeles, where I grew up for most of my life. My parents didn’t go to college and were unfamiliar with California’s complex higher education system.

Jairo Salgado at his graduation from Compton College at Dignity Health Sports Park in California with his teacher Michel VanOverbeck. Credit: Image provided by Jairo Salgado

My first try at college classes came shortly after earning my GED degree. I was interested in mechanical engineering and physics, but the cost was a huge barrier, as is the case for many students, and I left after one semester. For the next few years, I worked in low-paying jobs trying to make ends meet, and eventually fell into drug addiction and homelessness.

I had become the father of two beautiful children, but given my difficulties at the time of their birth, they were placed in foster care with my mother and my sister.

My turnaround came last year after completing a rehab program. My county social worker recommended a machine tool technology certificate program to me, given my interest in engineering.

Although I didn’t yet have a vision for my career path, I knew college could help me provide better job opportunities and a better future for my children. I didn’t want to fall back into the same patterns from before and I wanted to lay the foundations for a different trajectory for my children. The social worker put me in touch with the program at Compton College and counselors who have worked with Los Angeles County Social Services and various assistance programs.

I received support when applying for financial aid, for basic needs and for broadband access and a laptop for my program.

Having these tips for navigating information, various systems and processes took a lot of the weight off me and made my return to college pretty smooth. It allowed me to focus on my academic and professional goals and not on how to manage.

Once I entered the machine tool technology program, I fell in love with it. My teacher, Mr. VanOverbeck, was amazing, and his assistant Edgar helped me apply for benefits programs I hadn’t yet signed up for. Mr. V showed me the many intricate possibilities of machine tool work and I gained expertise through hands-on experience using various machines. It was great to see all the things you can do, and after the first class I just wanted to know more.

The college had also established partnerships with employers in the field, and I was introduced to the internship opportunity that led to my current job. Without that, I wouldn’t have known where to start for a machinist position.

I knew college could help create better job opportunities and a better future for my children.

Now, with a stable income, I have secure housing, I am able to pay my bills on time, and most importantly, I can be there for my children. Soon I will be working towards an associate’s degree as a machinist, so I can learn more skills in this career.

When I reflect on how I got to where I am now, it’s thanks to the alignment of social services, employers and a higher education institution – and their shared culture of supporting education. student set.

Compton College Partnership has combined a graduate school opportunity for me with real employment, which I hope the surrounding community colleges can do with shared resources and partnerships. Through such coordinated efforts, many more students like me, and their families and communities, can find the path to prosperity.

Jairo Salgado is a Machine Operator at Fastener Innovation Technology and a graduate of Compton College who earned his CNC Machine Operator Certificate of Achievement (COA) and Machinist COA this summer.

This college internship story was made by The Hechinger Reportan independent, nonprofit news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education, and California Compete: Higher Education for a Strong Economy, a nonprofit research organization focused on higher education and workforce policy. Register for Hechinger’s newsletter.

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