By Sgt. 1st Class Kerensa Hardy, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 5, 2008 - More than a dozen Mahmudiyah community representatives toured the Iskandariyah Vocational School on March 2 to see how their townspeople may benefit from it. The Mahmudiyah council chairman and education director general, an area representative, the Yusufiyah council chairman and nine senior sheiks attended. The group toured the vocational school, located next to the Iskandariyah Industrial Complex.
The school offers more than 20 programs, Nassir Abbas, the school director, said. Classes include welding, sewing, computer skills and maintenance, generator and air-conditioning repair and electrical engineering.
The vocational school opened in 1972. Almost 500 students are currently enrolled. "We are hoping in April to have 850, and in May more than 1,000," Abbas said.
The school's goal is to generate employment, said Army Lt. Col. Robert Bobinski, deputy team leader for the embedded provincial reconstruction team attached to the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team. "That means sustainable employment, not part-time jobs -- full-time jobs that pay money," Bobinski said.
The short-term goal is to bring students from Mahmudiyah to the school to teach them skills. Mid-term is to provide opportunities for the students to hone skills, perhaps by on-the-job-training.
"Long-term, as demand for employees grows, we will work with the government of Iraq to make more (vocational schools)," Bobinski said. That would expand the pipeline of trained employees with sustainable, marketable skills, he said.
The leaders toured halls jam-packed with students walking to class and entered classrooms filled to capacity with Iraqis learning to sew, weld and repair generators and computers, among other technical skills. They took copious notes, spoke to instructors and asked the director numerous questions about how the school could benefit Mahmudiyah.
"Whatever you learn here, you can bring back to your community and make other jobs," Bobinski said. "There is universal honor in taking care of your family."
Representatives from the Mahmudiyah region agreed to submit applications for 150 citizens who help with local security through the "Sons of Iraq" program to begin training in April.
"We will definitely send our people here," said Sheik Hattim Muhsin Alwan al-Mehowi, from Yusufiyah. Asked which programs would be best suited for the citizens in his area, he didn't hesitate. "All of them," he said.
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Kerensa Hardy serves with the 101st Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team.)