Former Home Health Aide Turns To Manufacturing For Brighter Future

Altheha DrePaul is an example of the modern face of immigration in the U.S. Originally from Guyana, she came to America a decade ago and began working as a home health aide.

Like so many workers in recent years, however, she was laid off in 2006, revealing an uncertain future. Undeterred, DrePaul decided to return to school to further her education.

The Minneapolis resident was aided in her effort by a regional worker education program called M-Powered, a collaboration between a local technical college and the area's workforce development agency, which prepares workers in a number of fields, including the trade DrePaul pursued -- metal forming.

It's such programs that President Obama cites as an important component in helping putting Americans back to work. The administration plans to spend $2 billion to help community colleges create training programs -- with input from local businesses -- toward the aim of boosting the number of certified manufacturing workers by a half million by 2016.

After three months of training, which included brushing up on her math and English skills, DrePaul, 38, became an apprentice machine operator at E.J. Ajax and Sons Inc., a Minneapolis-based maker of fasteners, brackets and other metal parts.

The firm has 40 employees, at least four of whom work in the company's four-year apprenticeship program, company vice president Erick Ajax tells AOL Jobs.

The M-powered program is meant "to allow people to come in at the entry level and ascend a career ladder," the company explained to the MinneapolisStar Tribune newspaper during a recent visit to the plant by President Obama.

In addition, learning a trade gives workers such as DrePaul greater job security and the ability to earn better wages.

DrePaul fashions parts that go into refrigerators and fire-extinguisher covers. She earns twice the amount that she once did as home health aide and now has access to a broad array of benefits, including health care, a 401(k) retirement program and tuition reimbursement, a perk that DrePaul tells AOL Jobs she's using to pursue a bachelor's degree in business management.

Despite the slow economic recovery, she says, "business is picking up," which results in her having to work overtime on some days.

As much as anything, DrePaul is proud that she works in American manufacturing. Growing up in Guyana, she says, nearly all the goods her family bought were made in China, and few of them were of good quality. That recollection inspires her to do the best that she can at Ajax, she says.

A married mother of two teenagers, DrePaul gets up at 4 a.m. each morning to catch a bus that gets her to the job by 6 a.m. She doesn't mind the lengthy commute, she says, because her job is help her to build a better future for her children.

"I feel blessed," she says.

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