ATLAS Workforce Development Program at College of Alameda

June 20, 2012

Once you enter the E building at Alameda College, it’s hard to imagine you haven’t just stepped into a contemporary American warehouse. In fact, that’s the point. “The equipment and material we use here is designed to mimic what you might find in any warehouse,” says instructor John Taylor, “it’s what the students are most likely to see.” Taylor joined the ATLAS workforce development program more than a year ago after working in the industry for nearly 15 years. Now he provides unique and comprehensive training to dozens of students looking to take their careers to the next level with a certificate course that could lead to higher wages and greater opportunities.

The forklifting class is held at the College of Alameda in Alameda, California and is part of ATLAS – a 12-week program that prepares students for jobs in the Logistics and Transportation Trades industry. These students are participating in the 17th cohort of the program. Students spend the first month at a partner organization, the Oakland Workforce Collaborative (TWC), working on professional development and strengthening their math, English and computer skills. TWC continues to provide case management and placement throughout the student’s time in the program.

Nearly twenty students are participating in this cohort of trainees where students learn how to safely handle a forklift machine, a critical skill in almost any warehouse in the country. For many of the students it’s not just a certificate, it’s a second chance.

Before entering the program, C.J. could drive but it’s clear he began the program with more than a little trepidation. “I’d never driven [a forklift] before, but now I’m pretty good,” he says smiling. Students whip around on the machines in front him, weaving through cones and lifting materials from heavy metal racks. C.J. attributes much of his success to the comprehensive safety and technical training the students receive in the classroom. “Before we come out here,” he says pointing to the machines, “we are in the classroom. Because you have to know what you are doing. If they ask you, what’s a deadhead? You have to know.”

A deadhead, by the way, refers to a completed trip without any freight.

And C.J. isn’t the only student hoping to double, or even triple, his wages through this training program. Monee, a young woman in the program, is also hoping to distinguish herself from other workers with this certificate. She’s worked in warehouses before and after seeing the change her brother underwent in the ATLAS program, Monee saw this as an opportunity for upward mobility and new skills. “Everything is changing,” she says, “you want to be able to stand out.” Monee wears a big smile and sports long fluorescent pink nails, her hands covered in jewelry. When asked what it’s like to maneuver in this predominantly male industry she laughs. “As soon as I saw the boys doing it, I wanted to do it better.” It’s this attitude that makes her one of the most successful students in the program, and you can often find her out on the asphalt helping other students.

But this type of comradery is to be expected, says Darrien, a teacher’s assistant who participated in the sixth ATLAS cohort and was asked to return because of his high marks, and great attitude. “It’s truly a team thing,” Darrien explains, “the students want to see each other succeed, so they help each other.” In between graduating and returning to assist other students achieve their career goals, Darrien has built up quite a resume, with warehouse experience at some of the premier Bay Area companies, including Cisco Foods and UPS. Judging from the light in his eyes, it’s clear that he has a passion and a knack for teaching.

When one student knocks the machine into a large crate Darrien immediately rushes over. Instead of taking over the wheel, he stands at a safe distance and coaches the trainee through the next steps. Gradually the student catches on and backs the machine out safely, his classmates cheer and laugh.

Darrien walks back over. “The trick is to go slow.” He smiles. “As long as you go slow, you’ll be alright.”

ALTAS is funded by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office and the U.S. Department of Labor, and partners with the Oakland Workforce Collaborative, the Oakland Workforce Investment Board, Port of Oakland, the Transportation and Logistics Union, California State University Maritime (Vallejo) and local employers. The ATLAS program is part of the Career Advancement Academies.

For more information on ALTAS visit their website at:

For more information on the College of Alameda, visit them at:

Written by Fanna Gamal
Photos by Dan Figueroa