Miguel Hernandez, former apprentice, now an online marketing analyst and Emelia Guadarama, an apprentice in the Bitwise program, which gives people from ‘marginalized’ communities opportunity to enter the tech field. Credit: John Walker / The Fresno Bee

This story was updated May 24, 2022 with information on a construction training program in Mendota.

Are you looking for a new job or better career opportunities in Fresno County?

There are a number of free, career-building resources for Fresno County residents looking for a change – from a growing number of forestry jobs to programs to attract women to the construction trades – according to local workforce development specialists.

“Unemployed or underemployed individuals who would like a better job – now’s the time for them to apply,” Blake Konczal, executive director of the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board (Workforce Connection), said in a March interview with The Bee/Fresnoland.

Konczal said workers looking for new opportunities should contact Workforce Connection – an organization, jointly operated by the city and county of Fresno, that helps unemployed individuals find better jobs through training and resources and assists employers in finding qualified workers.

He added that training provided by the organization will lead to new careers with “decent wages, health care, worker rights (and) where individuals have the opportunity to advance.”

Recent data from the California Employment Development Department indicates that Fresno County’s employment levels have finally reached pre-pandemic levels — but many local employers are still looking for skilled, qualified workers, Konczal said.

“Every employer I talk to, regardless of industry or sector, is really hurting for workers,” he said. “Now is the time for them to take advantage of that because it’ll turn — it’ll turn quickly.”

Where can I find good-paying jobs in Fresno County?

Workforce Connection has a number of resources for job seekers, unemployed, and anyone interested in finding a new career in local industries. Workforce Connection provides training and resources in industries such as:

Construction: Konczal calls construction, especially public infrastructure construction, a “hidden sector.”

“The biggest project that people probably think of would be high-speed rail – (but) it goes far beyond that,” Konczal said. “Not just in Fresno, but throughout the (Central) Valley, there is a lot of public money that is being spent on infrastructure.”

The Central Valley will see between 24,792 to 34,740 infrastructure construction jobs between 2022-2025 for projects related to transportation, broadband, public buildings, and more. Also, between 2020-2031, more than $47 billion will be spent on public infrastructure projects, according to an analysis conducted by Applied Development Economics, Inc. for the Fresno Regional Workforce Development Board.

Other projects in the pipeline include: a federal project to reline and regrade canals, a Fresno water treatment plant, campus construction at local community colleges, and more.

“We have a really robust training program trying to get people prepared to apply to become union apprentices in the Union Apprentice Training Program, and it’s doing quite well,” Konczal said.

Workforce Connection and Tradeswomen, Inc., an organization that supports women in the trades, is hosting an all-female training cohort called Valley Build NOW (Non-traditional Occupations for Women) in August, with the goal of bringing more gender diversity and equity to the male-dominated industry.

“We’re excited because we know it can be a hardship if you want to go back to school, but you still have to bring in an income,” said Martha Espinosa, marketing and grants manager with Workforce Connection. “With this new Valley Build NOW cohort, we are going to be paying a stipend for people…as they are taking the training program.”

Last week, Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission announced they’re expanding their 12-week construction apprenticeship program to the west Fresno County city of Mendota. Graduates will hiring requirements for contractors working with the High Speed Rail and may qualify for financial assistance to pay for initial induction fees.

According to EDD wage data from the first quarter of 2021, the mean annual wage for Fresno County construction laborers was $55,052.

Forestry: Konczal calls this field a “nascent” industry in the Central Valley, particularly in fuel management. “Both the state and the federal governments are putting vast amounts of money out to cut down dead or dying trees, to remove dead or dying brush and…to plant new trees,” Konczal said. “There’s an insufficient supply of human capital to take these jobs.”

For over a year and a half, Workforce Connection has been training forestry technicians at Reedley College in a five-month program, thanks to a grant from CalFire. “We have a 100% placement rate on that,” he said. Starting next year, the program will expand to Columbia College in Tuolumne County.

According to EDD wage data from the first quarter of 2021, the mean annual wage for Fresno County forest fire inspectors and prevention specialists was $79,421, while the mean annual wage for forest and conservation technicians was $42,036.

Healthcare, nursing
: The Central Valley has a huge need for more nurses and medical professionals. According to 2018 forecast by the University of California San Francisco, the Central Valley’s shortage of registered nurses will worsen in coming years because educational capacity as well as migration of RNs to the region is not large enough to keep up with population growth. Workforce Connection offers 14-month Licensed Vocational Nursing training programs.

Fresno City College was recently awarded $475,000 to develop the Nurse Pipeline Extension Project, a collaborative program between Fresno State and Fresno City College that will help increase the number of nurses in the Valley.

According to EDD wage data from the first quarter of 2021, the mean annual wage for Fresno County registered nurses was $112,569.

Logistics, warehousing:
In partnership with Fresno City College, Workforce Connection has a Warehouse Technician Program to train and place people in local warehouse jobs, such as Amazon. The center also has a six-week training program for truck drivers.

According to EDD wage data from the first quarter of 2021, the mean annual wage for Fresno County transportation and material moving occupations was $39,813, while for first-line supervisors of transportation and material-moving workers, it is $60,656.

Government and education sectors are also major employers in Fresno, Konczal said.

He also foresees opportunities in manufacturing and engineering, especially with the water challenges in the Central Valley. A March 2022 study by the Westlands Water District estimates that up to 35,000 jobs in the central San Joaquin Valley could be at risk due to “inadequate and unreliable” water sources. “I think you’re going to see a huge uptick in those farmers and growers adopting water-saving technology,” he said.

Do I have to pay for training or services?

Career training through Workforce Connection is free for eligible unemployed and underemployed individuals.

The center provides free wraparound services to help individuals through their training, thanks to funding from the Department of Labor.

Workforce Connection pays 100% of tuition, books and required supplies, and can help with gas money if someone needs assistance.

Espinosa said the center aims to provide a “support system” to help people during their career transitions, especially important for a region “where there are a lot of first-generation individuals that don’t have a mentor or guidance.”

Want to access free job-training resources in Fresno County? Here’s how

To get started, unemployed and underemployed individuals can visit the Workforce Connection website.

Individuals create an account with CalJobs, caljobs.ca.gov, to move forward with enrollment for staff-assisted services. Finally, individuals can schedule an appointment and referral request.

After an intake process, individuals will be assigned a counselor, who will help conduct a skills assessment and provide guidance on training and career options.

The center also has resources for youth and young adults ages 14-24 interested in education, training, and personal development. Click here to learn more about the Young Adult Services.

If individuals don’t need training, but want help in finding available jobs, resume support and interview preparation, they can also find those services with Workforce Connection. They also have resources for English-language learners, single parents, and people with previous involvement in the justice system, and more.

Residents in other parts of the Central Valley can find similar resources in their local workforce development centers here.

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Melissa is a labor and economic inequality reporter with The Fresno Bee and Fresnoland.