Submitted by Alicia Bennett, Public Affairs Officer, U. S. Forest Service Job Corps
Jacobs Creek Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center student Michael Cruse enrolled in Jacobs Creek Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center simply to earn his high school diploma. His father encouraged him to enroll in Job Corps after he dropped out of school in 10th grade only to discover that his employment opportunities were limited.
“I was jumping from job-to job in fast food restaurants, and I realized that I wasn’t really getting very far in life with doing that.”
After some online research, Cruse recognized that Job Corps offered him an opportunity to turn his life around. He quickly enrolled in Jacobs Creek’s heavy construction equipment mechanics program in late 2019 only to be soon sent home the following March amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Fast forward to 2022 and Cruse had returned to Jacob’s Creek and was close to completion in education and trade when he was encouraged to accept a forestry technician internship in Idaho.
Cruse arrived on Moose Creek Ranger District in North Central Idaho on May 20, 2022, to join one of three Great America Outdoors Act (GAOA) Forest Service trail crews. Working under GAOA Central Zone Trail Crew Lead Charles Pickett, he spent over four months working side-by-side with experienced Forest Service trail specialists tackling deferred maintenance trail projects in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area.
“I was clueless on what I would be doing,” says Cruse. Little did he know that by allowing himself to being open to a new experience outside his comfort zone would ignite a passion for building trails.
The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest has approximately 5,200 miles of trail of which 5,000 are in the Central Idaho Complex Priority Area under the Trail Stewardship Act. One hundred and forty-four trails across the forest are slated for deferred maintenance work over five years.
“Mike did not know what to expect or what he was getting into but he showed up with an open mind and a willingness to take whatever we threw at him. The work is challenging even for someone who’s accustomed to it,” states Pickett.
Having grown up on a Florida ranch, Cruse was familiar with the physical demands of hard labor. Still, hiking 30 miles a day, carrying nine days of food and supplies at elevation, just to get where he needed to be to perform his job was a surprise. With no aversion to hard work he threw himself into the job and by the time he left Idaho had lost 40 pounds.
“To come from a really different environment and push himself through that physical challenge was really huge,” says Pickett. “Since May there’s a pretty noticeable difference in in Mike’s physique and strength after pushing himself through that.”
Cruse was recruited to be a forestry technician as part of a pilot Job Corps paid work-based learning (WBL) program meant to add capacity to Forest Service trail crews. It is the first of its kind, serving as a pilot program for future WBL programs that will hopefully add much needed capacity. In addition to being able to earn some much-needed cash, Job Corps students earn Public Land Corps hours.
Along with mastering technical skills with tradition tools such as the cross-cut saw and ax and learning the dynamics of making a trail sustainable, Cruse experienced some special great outdoors moments.
“An experience that particularly stands out is when we did a double hitch,” he says. “On our days off, we went up a trail called Moose Creek. We would wake up next to the flowing creek and it would be kind of chilly, but it was the most beautiful thing to see—the flowing creek against the rocks and the smell of the mountain fresh air.”
Cruse now has his heart set on pursuing a career in trail’s stewardship and Pickett helped Cruse set up a USAJobs account to apply for GS-3 through GS-6 forestry technician positions. There is a short window to apply for spring 2023 season trail jobs and job applicants have to apply far in advance. Then they must play a waiting game until late winter to find out if they snagged a position. Having successfully graduated Job Corps, Cruse needed a job.
Job Corps National Office Fleet Manager Cooper Brantley stepped forward with a proposition. “I heard three or four people speak up for him,” he says. “I thought to myself, ‘why would you want to lose someone like this?’”
Needing help to manage Job Corps’ large fleet inventory, Brantley offered Cruse a 120-day WBL internship that could open up a second career path for Cruse as an entry level 5/7/9 transportation assistant.
Brantley is navigating Cruse through the on-boarding process and he will begin his training next January. In his new assignment, Cruse will enter data into the WEX Fleet Card program, tracking the monthly utilization data of the 24 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers. Brantley views the arrangement as a win-win. He gets much needed assistance with the potential to entice him to stay. “If he [Cruse] goes into something else, at least we kept him,” says Brantley.
Despite his long-term goal of a career as a forestry technician, Cruse is eager to start his training and explore this new opportunity.
“It’s a good job, good pay and it’s a remote job,” he says. “Yes, I’m an outdoors person, but I am just looking for a job I can have for a year or two–just get my foot in the door with the Forest Service and move higher-up over the years.”