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For Daniel Cervantes, being a role model for his three kids was important. And for years, he modeled hard work by leaving the house at 4 a.m. and coming back at around 8 p.m. 

Opportunities were scarce in Lancaster, so Daniel drove up to 4 hours a day, 70 miles south, looking for work in Los Angeles. “I worked for construction companies, mainly digging holes with a pick. It was very heavy work. But that’s what I had to do to support my family.” 

Unfortunately, those jobs didn’t pay much. At $100-120 a day for 8-9 hours of work, take away lunch and gas costs for the long commute and not much was left. Daniel’s story isn’t unique in a city like Lancaster, where the unemployment rate is the highest in the county at 13.8%. 

Today, things look very different for Daniel. He was recently one of 20 graduates of the first Industrial Manufacturing Technician Apprenticeship program developed by SMART Local 105 and BYD, the electric vehicle manufacturer that opened operations in Lancaster in 2013. 

The unique apprenticeship program is the result of a Community Benefits Agreement between BYD, the union and Jobs to Move America. First signed in 2017 and renewed in 2020, the agreement includes a commitment by BYD to recruit 40 percent of its workers from populations facing significant barriers to employment, including women, African Americans, justice-impacted individuals and veterans.

5 years ago, Daniel applied and got a job at the newly opened facility as a lead for the assembly department. 

He was now four minutes away from his home and able to finally spend more time with his wife and kids. He was now part of a union that offered training programs and certificates to increase Daniel and his colleague’s skills. Courses in CPR, OSHA and public speaking. Two years ago, the union offered this apprenticeship program. Almost 40 at the time, Daniel was intimidated because he was out of school for so long but decided to apply anyway. 

“I took it step by step.” Willy, his instructor, provided crucial support in those first few weeks. “He sat with me and showed me how to use a computer.” 

“I feel the difference. I feel powerful and confident.” 

Last month, Daniel was promoted to supervisor. He enjoys weekends off with his family, has health, dental and vision insurance for him and his family, a 401K, and even took a family vacation to Disneyland for the first time a few weeks ago. 

Most importantly, Daniel has been able to play an active role in his community. He volunteers at his kids’ school and church, planning events and activities and ensuring he can model being the decent human being he wants his kids to be.

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