For the hard-core unemployed in Cleveland’s Gladstone neighborhood, the Woodland Job Training Center represented a way out; a way out of poverty and unemployment, a way to a better future. When the Center opened in 1968, it was part of Superintendent Paul W. Briggs’s strategy of improving the quality of education in Cleveland. Through collaboration with General Electric Co. and funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, the Woodland Job Training Center provided job training, basic education, counseling services, and even personal hygiene and citizenship classes. In short, the Woodland Job Training Center represented a full-frontal assault on the cycle of poverty. Briggs’s idea for the Center echoed the sentiment of President Johnson and his War on Poverty. It also played into greater development plans for the neighborhood itself.
Gladstone, which ran from East 37th to East 55th streets between Woodland Avenue and the Nickel Plate Road rail yard, was often described as the “worst slum” in the city. As such, Cleveland designated Gladstone as an area for urban renewal and sought to revitalize the neighborhood without federal funding. In the late 1950s, however, efforts to convert the neighborhood to light industry stalled as the city of Cleveland found the cost of buying and clearing the land too expansive. In 1968, as federal funding rolled in to aid the development process, Mayor Carl Stokes remained committed to turning the vacant land in the Gladstone neighborhood into a viable place for light industry. Given the mandate from President Johnson to combat poverty where it lived, and Briggs’s commitment to quality education, the Gladstone neighborhood represented the perfect place for a job training center.
The Woodland Job Training Center, located at 4966 Woodland Avenue, connected the unemployed and future workers with job opportunities as they learned. The three-story, 200,000 square foot warehouse—donated by the General Electric Co.—housed classrooms while local companies rented out warehouse and office space. Students were employed part-time by partner companies in the building. The Center offered three different programs. The Job Opportunities in the Business Sector program targeted those who had gone to high school, but were now unemployed. The Work-Study Program for Dropouts paired work opportunities with education to serve those who had dropped out of high school. The Job Training for New Workers program was aimed at at-risk youth—students between 16 and 22 years old and either dropouts or potential dropouts. This program provided training in shops operated by cooperative firms. The diversity of programs offered at the Woodland Job Training Center made the center a resource to combat poverty across the spectrum of the urban community.
From the very beginning, the Woodland Job Training Center produced results. By November 1968, one hundred students had already passed through the center, received training, and found themselves employed by one of fifteen different companies in Cleveland. By the mid-1980s, the Center boasted that less than six percent of students remained unemployed six months after completion. President Johnson’s War on Poverty, however, had waned. In 1985, despite evidence that the center was successful and nearly self-sustaining, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District announced the closing of the Woodland Job Training Center, along with three other facilities, in a cost saving measure. Instead of spending money on schools and vocational programs, politicians prioritized prisons over job-training programs. Money that might have gone to keep the Woodland Job Training Center open went instead to build new, multi-million dollar prisons.
Rumors that Cuyahoga Community College might buy the Woodland Job Training Center left many people hopeful for the future. For community members, the idea of losing the job training and employment opportunities would mean dire consequences for those the center served. Without the ability to get skills training and education, the hard-core unemployed of the Gladstone area would be left with no real option but to turn to criminal activity or dependence on the welfare system to survive. On May 29, 1985, however, any thought of saving the center evaporated when a fire broke out in a third-floor broom closet. The fire department estimated damages at $20,000 and determined the cause of the fire to be arson.
Today, the building at 4966 Woodland Avenue is still owned by Cleveland Metropolitan School District, although students no longer go there. Just down the road sits the Unified Technology Center, part of Cuyahoga Community College’s efforts to provide job training. CMSD offers vocational programs at other high schools around the city, including at Max S. Hayes High School. The idea of combating systemic poverty through a concerted, collaborative effort, however, has disappeared. The mission of Paul Briggs, evidenced by the Woodland Job Training Center, ultimately remains unrealized.