Just a few years ago, Jairo Salgado was grappling with issues of homelessness, substance
abuse and incarceration.
Today, he has a full-time job as a machine operator at Fastener Innovation Technology, where he supports the setup and calibration for the company's heading machines. The company forms the heads on screws and fasteners with the precision needed to meet the specifications of the aerospace and defense industries.
"I am where I am now because of an internship opportunity through Compton College, and because Los Angeles County Social Services and Compton College's education programs created a pathway that allowed me to achieve a better life for myself and my family," said Salgado. "More public-private partnerships like this are needed to address the various situations and challenges that we as students must overcome."
Salgado's parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico and settled in east Los Angeles, where he was raised. "My parents did not go to college and were not familiar with California's complex higher education system," he said.
His first try at college classes came shortly after he earned his GED. "I was interested in mechanical engineering and physics, but the cost was a huge barrier, as it is for many students, and I left after a semester," he said. "The following years, I worked low-wage jobs to try to make ends meet, and I ultimately fell into drug dependency and homelessness. I had become a father to two beautiful children but, given my struggles at the time they were born, they were placed in foster care with my mom and sister."
Salgado's turnaround came in 2021 after he completed a rehabilitation program. His county social worker recommended a certificate program in machine tool technology because of his interest in engineering. "While I didn't yet have a vision for my career path, I knew college could help lead to better job opportunities and a better future for my kids," Salgado said. "I didn't want to fall back into the same patterns from before, and I wanted to set the foundation for a different trajectory for my children." His social worker connected him with Compton College's Career Education program, as well as counselors at Los Angeles County Social Services, and various assistance programs.
"Once I got into the machine tool technology program, I fell in love with it. My teacher, Mr. Van Overbeck, was amazing, and his teaching assistant Edgar helped me apply for additional benefit programs," Salgado said. "Mr. Van Overbeck showed me the many intricate possibilities of machine tool work, and I gained expertise through hands-on experience operating various machinery." In June 2022, he earned a Certificate of Achievement as a CNC machine operator and is continuing his studies at Compton College to complete his associate degree in machine tool technology.
Compton College's partnerships helped connect Salgado with not only higher education, but also gainful employment. He believes that with more coordinated efforts through social services and higher education, many more individuals and their families and communities can find their way to improved lifestyles.
"When I reflect on how I got to where I am now, it was through the alignment of social services, employers, and Compton College - and their shared culture of supporting the whole student," he said.
*Jairo Salgado's narrative was originally published in The Hechinger Report, Aug. 2022