The difference between poverty and fiscal security for many families remains the high-wage, skilled labor jobs that are still attainable without a college degree. But for generations, those jobs have been disproportionately reserved for men—and white men, specifically. As Kai Wright explains in an article accompanying this photo essay, new research shows just how profound that racial barrier remains for recent high school graduates, who are entering the worst job market since the Great Depression. It helps explain the dramatic unemployment numbers seen among black men and the spiraling poverty in black families.
In the photos below, Aura Bogado chronicles the efforts of one group of young men to hurdle the racial gap in skilled labor. Even getting the training one needs can be challenging—with declining public dollars for job training programs, many are left with expensive, for-profit schools. Bogado checked in with students in Newark, at the New Community Corporation’s automotive technician training program. The program hosts 50 students for nine months of classes; 95 percent of students receive full financial aid to cover the $7,500 cost. The photo essay is part of our seven-month series, “Life Cycles of Inequity,” exploring the challenges black men face in pursuing opportunity in the U.S.
Aljarod Stith, 30, takes notes while learning about changing Freon for a local school bus. The shop provides students with the hands-on resources necessary to prepare for the certification exams that are critical to landing jobs in the automotive industry. Stith will soon be taking a test to certify that he’s equipped to work with Freon.
An empty bay station. Aside from having five brand new vehicles to work on that were donated by Ford Motors, the shop also services student’s family’s cars for free—the only cost is the parts.
Lead instructor John Zaccheus, 59, affectionately known as Mr. Z, banters with some of his students in one of the shop’s classroom areas. Most shop students are in their early 20s, and come through the program after realizing they can’t find work without solid industry skills.
Robert Benjamin, 51, works with Mel Baker, 32, to change a brake. Students often work in teams to help one another get assigned tasks completed—and some move from bay to bay to provide support. The goal is for students to learn as wide a variety of shop skills as possible.
A student leaves behind his hat and sunglasses atop a toolbox. The shop hosts two sets of students in four-hour shifts: once in the morning and then again in the afternoon.
Shop students acquire knowledge about what every tool and part is used for—and the shop provides a place to make mistakes and learn. Some students are set on learning a very particular set of skills, but the shop encourages them to tackle as much as possible to keep their job options open.
Tires litter an area on the shop floor. Students first learn how to measure tire pressure, but soon progress to changing tires from rims and more.
Robert Benjamin replaces a tire.
Reginald Norris, 20, watches television during a lunch brake, as he waits for his father to bring his vehicle in for an oil change.
Reginald Norris works to drain the oil from his father’s vehicle as Mr. Z watches on. The students rely on instructors and administrators like Mr. Z not just for skills development. They also represent for many students the first link to social networks that research has shown are the key driver of racial segregation in skilled labor jobs.
Many automotive engineering jobs require new employees to arrive with their own tool set—which can cost thousands of dollars. New Community often lends students starter sets so they can tell potential employees they’re equipped to start work.
Originally from Lagos, Nigeria—where he was a Volkswagen worker—Mr. Z immigrated to the United States and earned dual degrees in automotive and industrial engineering. He stresses that despite certain barriers, he believes the United States still provides opportunities for those who work hard.
Dion Cummings, 29, looks at his cell phone between assigned tasks at the shop. Because of the donated Ford vehicles, students graduate with several certifications for the company under their belt.
A shop whiteboard illustrates vehicle routine service history. Students also learn the sometimes mundane tasks of tracking orders and service dates—another useful skill with which to enter the job market.
Tommy Allison, 28, works in the shop’s computer lab. Students log in 1,200 hours in about nine months. Those hours are spent working in the shop itself, as well as learning in the classroom, the computer lab, and in externships. The combined hours prime students for wherever their work might take them: working alone or in teams, behind a counter or at a garage, and more.
A key holder in Mr. Z’s office.
Mr. Z logs in the date and description of service on different vehicles done by his students at the shop. He tracks the work and asks his shop students to sign off to reflect their accomplishments.
A whiteboard in one of the shop’s various classrooms illustrates typical job wages. Parts department workers earn about $12 per hour, while some automotive technicians can earn up to $120,000 per year. Most students who graduate the program will find jobs that will earn them between $12.50 to $25 per hour.