Post 6: What kinds of training do day laborers get in the United States?

This is the sixth entry in a series of eight blog entries about the work the Institute for Immigration Research is doing with the Centreville Labor Resource Center (CLRC) to develop an in-depth picture of immigrant day laborers in the United States. In the past five entries we examined the types of services offered to the day laborers at the Centreville Labor Resource Center. We also looked at the reasons for why Guatemalan day laborers migrate to the US, the factors complicating their settlement into American life, the jobs they carry out while in Northern Virginia, and the importance of acquiring English language skills.

All of the interviewed day laborers came to the U.S. without any school certificates or work references etc.  They came with the mindset to undertake any job irrespective of it matching to their previous work experiences from their home countries.  All the interviewees expressed appreciation for the CLRC training options.

To help day laborers qualify for more work and better jobs, the CLRC offers free classes such as English language lessons, and vocational courses in painting, workplace safety, and electricity. Painting classes appear to be the most popular, since the trade offers a widerer net of jobs and practice for those interested in developing an artistic hobby. This fall 2015, the CLRC will offer Spanish literacy. This class is offered because many of the day laborers do not know how to read or write in any language. Most of the day laborers speak a Mayan dialect as a first language, such as Ixil, and many have not finished elementary school. The Spanish literacy class is therefore intended to boost their learning in a second language, which for many of them is Spanish.  Discussions on educational background and English skills of day laborers can be found in Post 2 and Post 5, respectively.

Not everyone who could benefit from training can attend these classes. For some, the demands of long work days prevent them from getting training. When asked during interviews if they had been able to partake in formal CLRC training for trades such as painting, one of the day laborers stated, “Not really, I have been learning on the job. My friends have been taking me and [I] would learn from them. When I have the opportunity I will watch videos on the internet of how to do it.” Transportation was an issue as well, as many of them cannot drive and do not hold driver’s licenses. Those whose former professions were in truck driving and transportation lament this factor, stating that it holds them back in different ways. “I’m just not able to show my good reputation as I cannot demonstrate that I’m a good truck driver and that I have no DUI issues or anything like that. There is no way to prove it without a license,” one man said.

Guatemalan drivers. © Lady Mohan

Many of the day laborers worked in trades before they arrived in the United States. When asked to compare the necessary training in the United States to his country, one worker from El Salvador replied, “It is very different from here. In El Salvador you just need to have a friend, who is already a trained bricklayer and you learn from him. If you don’t have that person, then you will not be able to train to become a bricklayer. It is a skill that is being taught by people in your social network. The friend or family member will teach you all the tricks and the person will share his knowledge.” El Salvadoran employers do not rely on licenses or certificates, he said, but hire based upon reputation in the community. When asked if American employers ask for a certification to prove that a worker has the skills and credentials necessary to do a job, he said “I don’t really know what they ask, but when I saw the work here I got quite scared, because it is so different. I could definitely not work here, because the tools are very different from what I’m used to. The bricklaying jobs are just so different here and that’s why I kept on going with landscaping jobs.”

Landscapers. Golden Triangle District © Elvert Xavier Barnes Photography

Not all training the day laborers have undertaken in the United States are purely work-related. One man, a former truck driver in Guatemala, revealed that during his off-time he had earned a certificate in religious studies, taught in Spanish. “I am a man of God. I have served in a church for all these nine years I have lived here so far, [and] I would like to take the opportunity to show what kind of person I am. I would like to raise my voice for people like me. I’m a hard-working man and I have a good reputation.” When asked why he chose to earn the certificate, he replied, “I just pursued the certificate out of my own interest. It is an Evangelical Church and I cannot pursue a job in a church for matters that I don’t want to get into. It would be my dream job to work as a pastor.”

The CLRC is maximizing the labor potential of its patrons by offering training. At the CLRC, each day laborer is given equal opportunity to obtain more skills and increase their income. If opportunities are taken, then each worker can greatly broaden their professional horizons. However, it became clear to us that for the day laborers earning an income takes priority over learning new skills. Yet, the day laborers were constantly trying to balance training versus income, because they know that improved English and vocational skills might increase their hourly pay.

Another factor to consider when examining the day laborers success on the labor market is their social capital, their networks and relationships that can affect their position in the US. In other words, how much does their social capital influence their lives here? In Post 7 we will examine what the social capital of day laborers looks like in the US compared to their home country and how they make use of it here.


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