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Posted: Tuesday, July 3, 2018 12:00 am

Two bad Uber reviews left Kristina Williams jobless. The pay wasn’t great working for the ride share company, but, for the mother of two, it was something. And after two riders left bad reviews, the company forced her off the platform.

A graduate of Monroe Area High School, Williams had bounced around jobs in the area; the money never quite good enough on the night shift grind at the Walmart Distribution Center or standing over the heat of the McDonald’s fryer.

After losing the Uber gig, she decided to do something different. She’d seen an application on Facebook for a program called ManufactuReady, which trained mostly jobless adults for careers in the large manufacturing centers around the area.

Run through Athens Technical College, the program has been available in Walton County since last fall. Williams applied, was accepted and joined Walton’s second ManufactuReady class.

The idea behind the course, explains Pete McGill, who administers the program through the college, is to take jobless people and turn them into workers in the area’s factories.

For those without many opportunities, this program can provide the first step on the ladder toward secure employment and a middle-class life.

Theses sorts of programs have existed, in some form or fashion, since the early 1990’s. But during the Obama years, Congress roped several of them together in the Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act.

This basically gave a chunk of money to the states and told them they needed to figure out how to train disadvantaged workers in a way that fit the needs and abilities of the state.

ManufactuReady sprang from this law, three and a half years ago, McGill said, at the Athens location of Athens Tech. It quickly spread to Greensboro and to Walton County in late 2017.

Williams, along with 10 others, formed the second class in Walton.

The program lasts six weeks, and is designed to mimic a factory environment. The students clock in at 9 and out 5, just like they would on the job, as well as during lunch breaks.

“It takes three weeks to break bad habits.” McGill said, “Some of the students have struggled with little things that have prevented them from being successful. We try to fix that.”

During class hours they learn to operate a forklift, clear OSHA regulations, build a resume, handle a job interview and other skills.

But the real focus, McGill said, is to make students handle unfamiliar situations and work as a team.

For example, the 11 students had to, at one point, build a speaker with a 3-D printer, wire it, install a Bluetooth component and connect their phones to it. If music comes out, they pass that day.

On the final day, the students travel to a factory floor in Athens, where their instructors simulate a day where everything goes wrong.

“We call it the controlled chaos test,” McGill said. “They need to be able to handle days like that.”

After that, the students start looking for jobs. McGill said around 80 percent of graduates find a job that pays between $11-$16 an hour. With all the manufacturing around this area, there are plenty of options.

Williams, for her part, has two job offers, one from Carter’s distribution in Braselton and another from SRG in Covington.

Both pay more than any job she’s had in the past.

But the money isn’t the only thing that Williams is grateful for.

She feels like she has control over her life.

“Every time I took a job in the past,” she said, “It was because I needed the money right away. I’ve never been able to actually choose where I go next.”

Hopefully, she said, she can choose a life that feels right for her.

“It just feels great to have options,” Williams said.

The next ManufactuReady class starts Aug 20. Applications, which can be found at the Athens Tech office, are accepted on a rolling basis.

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