When Job Corps instructor Alexander Pasillas searched YouTube a while back for videos about Job Corps sites like the one where he teaches an electrical shop class, he was disappointed by what he saw.
Instead of seeing students taking advantage of the training and education at Job Corps, he saw students "acting a fool and wasting their time."
"That was not my impression of Job Corps," said Pasillas, 34, an electrical shop instructor at the Cascade Job Corps in Sedro-Woolley, Wash .
So Pasillas, a 1990s Job Corps graduate himself, decided to take action. With roughly $2,500 worth of his own editing software and a $100 camcorder, he and his students started making videos about the things they were learning and posting them on their own YouTube Channel, ELECTRICALSHOP. They made a video tour of their Cascade Job Corps site.
"I wanted to show the youth who are working toward their success and building their lives," Pasillas said.
In a recent report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that such videos could go a long way toward showing prospective participants, especially women, what life is actually like at Job Corps sites - thereby reducing false expectations and increasing the likelihood that those who enroll in the program will stay.
"Pre-enrollment tours, virtual tours, and center videos can be important tools in establishing realistic expectations of Job Corps life," the GAO states in a recent report, "Better Targeted Career Training and Improved Preenrollment Information Could Enhance Female Residential Student Recruitment and Retention."
In many ways, in the digital age, any agency that hasn't taken advantage of the Web to promote and highlight its programs, such as is the case with Job Corps, is behind the times.
Meanwhile, armed with little more than cell phone cameras and time to spare, Job Corps members themselves regularly post their own videos of Job Corps life on the web - and many of those videos leave little doubt about why some women, or anyone, for that matter, may view Job Corps as a place that lacks the "sense of safety" that the GAO report says is critical to Job Corps' success.
For instance, a recent search of YouTube turned up several Job Corps postings showing fights, including one that was described as "two doms" about to fight each other over a girl, an intense boxing match, and a match where one young man is apparently knocked out in his dorm room by another. One video, "What They Didn't Tell You That Happens at Harpers Ferry Job Corps", shows the men's bathroom being flooded after a urinal flush valve was broken.
The situation holds a warning for every youth-serving organization, especially large ones: If you don't take control of how your image is portrayed on the Web, someone else might take control for you.
Money an Issue
So what stands in the way of producing a video or a virtual tour for each of the 122 program sites throughout the country? According to the GAO, about $1 million, its estimated cost of producing a video or virtual tour for each Job Corps site. That's about $8,200 for each of the 122 sites.
In reality, Job Corps wastes several times as much money each year on empty beds. The GAO report says the federal training and employment agency sets aside $34,000 for the costs associated with training each person in a dormitory bed, regardless of whether that bed is filled. In 2007, for instance, the GAO report says, there were 3,700 empty beds at Job Corps sites, which means millions were spent on unfilled slots.
While the Department of Labor ponders whether to spend $1 million on videos for Job Corps sites, Pasillas, the instructor in Washington, has already demonstrated that with a little drive and determination, such a project could probably be done for a whole lot less and accomplish so much more. He has the support of those who oversee his work.
"Obviously, the more exposure to positive things that Job Corps is doing, we most certainly want to encourage that," said Jesse Constancio, West Coast program manager for Home Builders Institute, which provides training and placement services for Job Corps throughout the nation.
Constancio says older individuals such as himself may not be as tech-savvy as younger people like Pasillas, and should let the younger generation lead the way.
"I'm an old man. I don't do YouTube, 'MyFace' and all that stuff," Constancio said, inadvertently blending the names of MySpace and Facebook.
"If you want to talk to kids, this where you talk to them at."
A Question of Approach
The Department of Labor (DOL) realizes that it has to turn to the Web to reach youths and has already taken steps in that regard, but based on the low number of views the videos have received, it hasn't done so effectively.
For instance, Job Corps has created its own Job Corps YouTube site for its official recruitment videos. However, a recent check found that the videos hadn't generated anything near the 10,000 or so views that Pasillas' videos have generated.
In fact, Job Corps students who post videos of themselves doing freestyle raps generate more hits than the official Job Corps videos.
Perhaps it's because the official videos have a contrived commercial feel.
Curiously, it was the DOL that first referred Youth Today to YouTube in order to learn more about Job Corps.
When the newspaper asked to visit Job Corps sites to do a video about females in the program, DOL spokesman Michael Volpe suggested a reporter check out this video showing a young female student speaking about her Job Corps experience at the department's Annual Job Corps Summit in Washington, D.C. back in 2007.
Volpe declined the requested site visit, saying that Job Corps sites are "places of learning and we don't want to disrupt the educating and training of the youth by having media on campus."
What about all those You Tube videos?
"We contacted YouTube several times in 2008 to ask them to remove the vile Job Corps videos," Volpe said. But he said it's a "freedom of speech issue. ... DOL cannot make people take down videos."
For Pasillas, the issue is not about taking down negative videos; it's about putting up good ones.
He believes that having youths create videos in which they demonstrate what they've learned fosters a better learning environment. By using rap and other forms of popular music on the videos, it makes whatever Job Corps program is being featured more exciting.
Consider the video Pasillas created titled "We Get Money For These Skills," which features the song, "I Get Money," by rap artist 50 Cent. The video includes superimposed text that says journeymen wiremen can earn more than $30 per hour, and includes demonstrations of exothermic welding, residential wiring and fluorescent lighting. It shows students studying National Electric Codes and Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.
Pasillas' videos address the female problem as well: The "We Get Money" video shows two young women pouring concrete for a sidewalk. Pasillas said that while other Job Corps sites may have trouble attracting women, the Cascade Job Corps has more women than men.
Nevertheless, the DOL would still rather hire someone else to make video tours that Pasillas has already shown can be made by instructors and involve students.
"The staff here feels it would cost more to do it that way," said DOL spokesman Volpe, voicing the department's opposition to having each site create its own video tour. "This would dilute the 'brand' of Job Corps. A virtual tour under one coordinated method would work best."
Pasillas knows what works best as well. For the last two years, he won the Home Builders Institute Excellence in Placement Award 2007-2008 for getting 90.9 percent or more graduates jobs that match the training in his program. He has been nominated for the award again this year, placing his program on track to win the first place award three years in a row.