Southwest Conservation Corps and The Training Advantage


Program Summary: For almost 40 years the Training Advantage (TTA) has designed projects to address the local needs of southwestern Colorado and to help supply a trained workforce for emerging industries. TTA currently contracts with the state to provide services to adults and dislocated workers in the southwest region and to youth in the western region. It uses these relationships to recruit and enroll participants in the Fire Careers Training Program.

The Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) is a nonprofit employment, job training, and education organization with locations in Durango and Alamosa, Colorado; and Tucson, Arizona. SCC hires young adults ages 14 to 25 and organizes them into crews focused on completing conservation projects on public lands. Corpsmembers work, learn, and commonly camp in teams of six under the supervision of two adult crew leaders. Each SCC program promotes leadership, teamwork, work skills, conflict resolution skills, environmental stewardship, and personal responsibility. The SCC programs are physically demanding and are not to everyone’s liking or ability. Interested applicants are encouraged to look at the job descriptions and applications for all of SCC’s programs, which run from 4 to 44 weeks in length and vary in intensity levels. Depending on the interests and abilities individuals, including youth with disabilities, are enrolled in the program that best meets their needs and offers the greatest chance of success.

Together the SCC and TTA developed and implemented the Fire Careers Training Program to prepare low-income 18-25 year olds for careers in the wildfire industry while providing comprehensive wildfire mitigation and prevention services to communities. The Fire Careers Training Program addresses two major issues facing Southwest Colorado:

• the high cost of living is pricing out low skill workers, especially young people aged 18-25 years old; and
• the spread of wildfires which continue to plague the region, presenting a huge need for skilled employees in the wildfire prevention and mitigation industries.

Program Structure/Design: The Fire Careers Training Program is a three-month crew program geared towards individuals interested in a career in wildland firefighting or forestry. The program provides direct work experience and formal training to young adults, 18-25 years old, in an emerging industry. Participants are low-income young people who either have not completed high school or have not advanced past high school. Most of the participants have few options for obtaining career-oriented jobs that would pay a livable wage in southwest Colorado’s increasingly high-priced communities.

Through the Fire Careers Training Program participants receive basic chainsaw training and complete a course called Introduction to Basic Wildland Firefighting. Each youth completes between 300 and 900 hours of on-the-job training. After which SCC and TTA staff members assist participants in post-program transitions. For example, at the conclusion of the program, all of the nine 2005 participants obtained jobs. Six of the participants obtained jobs directly related to their experience and training.

SCC recruits corpsmembers from a variety of backgrounds by reaching out to them on their home turf. They partner with community and faith-based organizations. Along with the SW Region Workforce Investment Board Youth Council, they make presentations at schools and community centers; conduct outreach activities at Native American Chapter Houses; partner with local pueblos; place announcements on community television and radio stations; and post flyers in neighborhood. Another effective marketing tool is word of mouth from current and former members, as well as project sponsors and partners. SCC places a particular emphasis on recruiting Native American youth; typically 25-30 percent of its Durango corpsmembers are Native American.

SCC brings together the crew — six participants and two crew leaders — as a group for a 16-week program. TTA works with those that are sponsored via the WIA discretionary grant funds to document WIA eligibility. The first week is typically a formal chain saw training class with a mixture of classroom and field work. During the following 12 weeks the crew works with a public land partner on a fire mitigation project on public land. SCC pays each corpsmember. They also learn to work as a team to accomplish the objectives of each project simulating a real world employment situation. Toward the end of the program SCC works with each individual corpsmember to help transition them to a job placement. The final week of the program is a formal Introduction to Wildland Firefighting training and Red Card testing.

SCC provides a very low corpsmember-staff ratio of 3:1 on the crew so that each participant gets detailed attention. In addition, the SCC Recruiter and Program Director work closely with the crew to ensure that participants have the support they need to complete the program and transition successfully. Only one of 22 participants has not finished the program.

For those participants that lack a high school diploma, SCC assists them in enrolling in Durango Adult Education Center at the conclusion of the program to complete their high school education. Participants finish the program with the credentials and experience they need to obtain career-oriented positions in the fire management industry.

States of Operation: CO

Youth Targeted:
_X_ Out of school youth ___ In-school youth _X_ Runaway and homeless youth _X_ Youth with disabilities ___ Pregnant or parenting youth _X_ Youth offenders _X_ Youth in foster care or aging out _X_Migrant youth _X_ Rural youth ___ Urban youth _X_Minority youth ___ Other (describe: ________________________)

ODEP Funded: No
Profile Year: 2007


Career Preparation and Work-Based Learning Experiences: Career interest exploration is done at the beginning of the program and is primarily targeted at careers in the fire mitigation industry. However, SCC explores with participants the many different types of careers available within the industry. SCC requests that each project partner provide an overview of their agency including jobs and career positions available.

The chainsaw training at the beginning of the program has a detailed curriculum, as does the Introduction to Wildlland Firefighting. Each youth has an on-the-job training plan. This plan is completed to insure that each project meets the needs of the public lands partner.

The corpsmember positions are paid jobs that are performed in a highly supportive environment. Participants get paid a wage each week and earn an AmeriCorps Education Award ($1,250) while receiving the training they need to obtain career-oriented positions.

SCC assists each participant with locating a job and provides tools along the way to facilitate the process. For instance, SCC conducts a class mid-way through the program on how to complete the federal job application on-line so that participants can apply for federal fire fighting jobs. Many of the project partners see the program as a key recruiting source and one key fire manager calls it the “minor league hot shots.” SCC follows up periodically with exited corpsmembers and continues to help refer participants to jobs long after they have completed the program.


Management: Both SCC and TTA have experienced organizational leadership that is committed to the Fire Careers Training Program. Key staff members from both programs meet regularly to monitor the program and share information. The two organizations collect three categories of data that are used to manage the program.

• Corpsmember impact. SCC crew leaders complete regular “benchmark” documents measuring individual corpsmember progress and TTA staff complete on-going case notes. In addition, each participant completes a pre- and post-program survey as well as a goals worksheet. SCC and TTA staff members monitor all documents and make changes — programmatically or individually — to ensure that each participant is receiving full benefit from the training and work experience.
• Project impact. SCC compiles project output data (e.g. number of acres treated) as well as project outcome data (e.g. project surveys from project sponsors delineating the impact of the project). SCC also asks sponsors verbally and in writing to evaluate the crew’s performance on a number of project and work-related areas. SCC makes changes as necessary to ensure that projects fully meet project sponsor expectations.
• Corpsmember post-program outcomes. TTA tracks exited corpsmembers from each session to determine their success at obtaining post-program jobs, especially in the wild land fire fighting industry. In addition, TTA and SCC work closely with employers in the industry to ensure that the program’s training and work experience continue to provide employers with applicants with appropriate skills and experience.

SCC and TTA staff members each review this data on a regular basis and make program changes as needed. In addition, SCC staff members conduct a full staff retreat followed by a full board retreat at the end of each season to fully review the season and make adjustments and changes for the following year.

Collaboration: SCC and TTA developed a strong partnership to operate the program. Staff members meet together regularly to share resources and information. Through this relationship, SCC staff members joined the Colorado Youth Council and Workforce Investment Board. In addition to the two primary partners, there are numerous other organizations that collaborate to support the project in various ways. These include

• Ballantine Foundation- provides grant funding,
• BLM, Farmington Field Office- provides project-based funding,
• BLM, Moab Field Office- provides project-based funding,
• BLM, San Juan Field Office- provides project-based funding,
• Bureau of Indian Affairs- provides project-based funding,
• Canyon Country Youth Corps- provides an employer partner,
• City of Durango- provides grant funding,
• Coutts and Clark Western Foundation- provides grant funding,
• Fire Ready Inc.- provides an employer partner,
• Forestry Specialists Inc.- provides an employer partner,
• Friends of the Animas River- provides project-based funding,
• Manti La Sal National Forest- provides project-based funding,
• Mesa Verde National Park- provides project-based funding,
• Mueller State Park- provides project-based funding,
• National Resources Conservation Service- provides project-based funding,
• Navajo Lake State Park- provides project-based funding,
• San Juan Hot Shots- provides an employer partner,
• San Juan National Forest- provides project-based funding,
• San Juan Public Lands Center- provides provide training,
• Trapper Creek Job Corps Center- provides a second stage training provider partner, and
• Vallecito Service League- provides project-based funding.


Data: The Fire Careers Training Program has benefited its participants and communities. Twenty-one young adults, aged 18-25, completed the Fire Careers Training Program in 2005 and 2006, receiving S212 Chainsaw Training, S130/190 Introduction to Basic Wild land Firefighting, and completing between 300 and 900 hours of on-the-job training. Most importantly, 90% of participants obtained jobs or higher education placements at the conclusion of the program. Over half of the participants obtained jobs directly related to their experience and training.

Third-Party Documentation:
Over the past two years, this program has received the following three awards:
2006 Promising Practice Award — Fire Careers Training Program
Colorado State Youth Council, May 9, 2006
2005 National Project of the Year – Fire Careers Training Program
National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, February 5, 2006
2005 “Best Practice” Award – Fire Careers Training Program
Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, August 25, 2005
The National Association of Service and Conservation Corps awarded the program its “2005 Project of the Year” award.

Organization Name: Southwest Conservation Corps and The Training Advantage
Organization Director: Harry Bruell, SCC Executive Director
Program Name: Fire Careers Training Program
Street Address: 120 Rock Point Drive, Unit B
City: Durango
State: CO

Contact Person: Dawn Farrington
Contact Title: Program Director, The Training Advantage
Contact E-mail: