When He Got a Hammer, He Got Himself a Career


Jacob Johns spent the early part of his adulthood moving from job to job, with no real prospects for the future in sight. From factory to restaurant work, he had nothing stable to hang his hat on.

"Nothing with a pension," he said. "Nothing with any future. Nothing I could call a career." He had a young family to support, and he needed to make a change in his life.

The 22-year-old Philadelphian — born to a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father in Oxford, England — grew tired of vocations he described as nothing more than "busy work," so he decided to visit the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia. They referred him to the Jewish Employment and Vocational Service, a nonprofit agency that helps people from all backgrounds advance to more fulfilling careers with education and job training.

At JEVS, Johns took a personality and career test. It pointed him in the direction of carpentry, something he had some experience in but had never really thought of as a profession. "Once I took the test, it was a little more defined," he said.

He gained entry into the carpentry program at Orleans Technical Institute in Northeast Philadelphia, and was placed on a waiting list for a spot. Fortunately for him, a slot opened up, and an expected wait of months suddenly became a nearly immediate opportunity.

Program Boosts Skills

So he and 20 other hopefuls started in November 2005; 10 of them graduated six months later. Johns even earned a scholarship from HelpingHands, in recognition of his initiative and eagerness to work.

The institute serves about 500 students, with both day and evening classes, and includes classroom and hands-on training. Men and women can take courses ranging from building maintenance, to plumbing and heating, to court reporting.

(In fact, Orleans is building a brand-new, $20 million, 88,000-square-foot facility on Red Lion Road in Northeast Philadelphia, which broke ground last month.)

In addition to technical training, Orleans also gets its students ready to be effective employees by teaching them how to succeed in the workplace.

"More than anything else, I think [it] got me more prepared for the work world," said Johns. He said he was instilled with the values of reliability and punctuality, which he described as "getting all my ducks in a row." He had little trouble learning the carpentry taught to him, but the life and workplace skills were keys to his success in a new career.

Now, Johns works as a union carpenter for KCCI Construction, based in Warrington.

"My job's great," he declared. "I couldn't ask for better."

As part of the job, he's worked at elementary-school sites, and is currently helping to build a strip mall in West Chester, taking advantage of his newfound talents in interior and exterior carpentry, as well as drywall hanging.

Johns is also helping out the community as well. He learned of a project at Temple Judea of Bucks County in Doylestown, where a dilapidated shed needed to be rebuilt. Johns spoke with the director of Orleans, and carpentry students at the school will be tackling the restoration sometime in the near future.

In the meantime, Johns is satisfied keeping hold of his professional ties. "Right now, it's just staying in the union," he said.

He's also looking forward to next month, when he will be getting married. His fiancée, Johanna, and their two children are still basking in the good fortune that came from the assistance given by two outlets that opened up new avenues.

"They're just as happy as I am," stated Johns. "In the end, they're the ones reaping the benefits."


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