“My father told me the city of Camden was hiring for the trades. So I went and put in an application,” says Cook.
The Camden father of two says becoming an apprentice in the Local 277 Painters Union helped him go from “scraping by” to comfortably providing for his family.
“They taught you something that you’ll have for life,” said Cook.
Micah’s initial training came through the Union Organization for Social Services in Pennsauken which helps prepare and place people into apprenticeships with various trade unions.
This past year the UOSS became the primary training agency for the Camden Construction Career Initiative, the 10-week program to help Camden residents get jobs in the city’s construction boom.
“The idea was to engage as many city residents in the construction projects as possible,” says Bob Shiavinato, who spearheads the program for the UOSS.
Since the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 the State of New Jersey has invested taxpayer money into dozens of projects in Camden; totaling more than $164 million.
That in turn has drawn billions in private investment and the results are starting to show according to data released this month by the U.S. Census Bureau.
While other local cities like Trenton, Wilmington and Philadelphia saw their poverty rates remain almost flat last year, Camden’s poverty rate dropped from 40 to 30 percent.
“We’re just at the beginning of the renaissance of the city and the beginning of the renaissance of job creation,” says Camden County Freeholder Director Lou Cappelli.
With at least $2 billion of investments in the pipeline, more job training is expected to help Camden families like the Cooks.
“It’s put a smile on my face and my kid’s face,” says Cook. “It did something to me internally as well self-esteem wise. I feel good when I wake up in the morning. I got a career job to go to.”