Smart Training Center Opens for Oakland Low-Income Residents

Residents of Oakland, Calif.'s Acorn Smart Housing Center will begin moving into their newly wired apartments this week, and computer training will start immediately to provide them with the skills needed for placement in the high-tech work force.

The Acorn Smart Housing Development is a partnership between Oakland and IBM Corp. to provide computer training and job placement for low-income residents. The $3.1 million pilot project is being completed in phases, the first of which is complete and entailed wiring the community.

The second phase began with the opening of the computer training center, where residents will receive basic PC training and can then begin work on IBM Network Station computers installed in their apartments.

"The training starting now will provide people with basic computer and job skills," said Laura Simpson, housing development coordinator for the city of Oakland. "Then, we'll look into employing them with local companies and getting the residents off of welfare."

The course work, developed by IBM, will include job-related technology classes, literacy training and GED preparation. IBM also will work with the Oakland school district to integrate the Acorn curricula into local school programs.

"It's a combination of equipment and a consultative approach to learning that will replicate what we do in the marketplace for the state and local government in student and low-income housing," said John Pratt, director of enterprise learning services for IBM global services.

The third phase of the project, dubbed Welfare to Work, will tap the local business community for ways to prepare residents for mainstream jobs. Job placement will occur directly through local businesses, temporary employment agencies or Welfare to Work agencies and will be customized to fit the performance of each student-resident.

"This will help people who are not earning enough or using all of their skills...and increase their potential," Simpson said.

Pratt said IBM will expose trainees at the Acorn Center to technology innovations it develops with its commercial clients. "We're trying to work withclients through the Web and the Internet, and we'll be doing it at the same time with these folks. We'll be doing it in parallel," Pratt said.

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