By NORA HESTON TARTE
Business Journal Writer
MODESTO — E&J Gallo Winery is keeping employment local.
It was 2015 when the Modesto-based business noticed a gap in its workforce. There weren’t enough technical employees in the area to fill its needs. Instead of looking to surrounding communities to hire from, the company created a job-ready program with local schools to train high school graduates in the skills the company needed.
In the two years the program has been up and running, Gallo has hired 17 program participants to work at the winery.
“I learned that if you want a good-paying career you don’t need to leave [the area],” Edwin Valdivia Jacobo, a general winery worker who graduated Ceres High School Manufacturing and Green Technology Academy in 2015, said. “I have one here in my own backyard, and I didn’t even know it.”
“The program has helped area youth become better prepared for the world of work and gain real-life experience working in a manufacturing environment,” said Richard Coffey, Senior Director of Workforce development at Gallo. “The program provides all students with the opportunity to learn lifelong skills that are needed to be successful in the workforce, and, if selected for a paid internship, students are able to gain work experience, further develop their skills and ultimately apply for a position within the winery organization.”
The job readiness and internship program developed naturally out of an existing partnership between Gallo and the Ceres High School Manufacturing Academy.
“[Gallo] has been involved with the academy from its inception when we were approached by the school district to help develop the curriculum and study options as well as providing mentors to the program,” Coffey said.
Julessa Nava Ambriz, a level four operator at Gallo and a 2015 Ceres High Graduate, learned of the job readiness program in high school.
“At first, I shrugged it off, because in high school you’re just naïve about everything,” Ambriz said.
Ambriz asked other workers at Gallo about the program and heard lots of positive feedback. She, along with some friends, decided to apply. Her friends never followed through, but Ambriz did.
“Now I really try to tell others that are still in school to pursue it,” she said. “It has given me an opportunity to have a career and start my career and go to school. I can easily progress through the company with a few years under my belt, and it’s a great feeling knowing that I’m not stuck in one spot.”
After its success, Gallo expanded its offering to other schools to include Modesto City Schools, Ceres Unified, Hughson Unified, Turlock Unified, Patterson Unified, Madera Unified and Merced Unified.
Joining the program has several steps. First, candidates apply through their school district. Then, qualified students are invited to complete a 30-hour after-school program that runs once a week for 10 weeks.
The goal is to turn out students that are job ready by teaching them interview skills, résumé writing, communication skills, conflict resolution, change management and lean principles.
“I learned that teamwork and communication is huge part of being part of a company. They tell you that it is, but you really don’t believe it until you experience it,” Ambriz said.
After the job-readiness program is completed, students can apply for internships at Gallo. Performance during the program, including attendance, is taken into consideration.
At first, internships were only available on the operations side. However, after that proved successful, Gallo began offering internships on the winegrowing side as well, in vineyard operations.
“Interns that successfully complete the program are given the opportunity to interview for positions at the end of the internship,” Coffey said.
After the first year’s success, Gallo began working with Modesto City Schools to identify the different career technical education pathways that provided the technical aptitude and knowledge that best meet the company’s current job needs.
“There are so many different opportunities to move up and so many different career choices from … analysis, to marketing, to mechanic — anything you want to pursue, you can,” said Miguel Ortega, another level four operator who completed the internship program through Ceres High.
Opportunity Stanislaus, a local organization dedicated to supporting economic growth and vitality in the community, is helping, too. They pay for students’ WorkKeys tests, a necessary component of joining the workforce program.
The organization is also working to expand the program’s reach, working alongside Gallo employees to determine future needs and train area students to fill those roles. This will include providing targeted technical and manufacturing training programs to support current Gallo employees, including former interns. All programs are being developed to complement existing programs offered by MJC.
The goal is for Opportunity Stanislaus to be a dot connecter, connecting local job seekers with employees and education through partnerships in the community.