Before the city's Brownfield Job Training program, Dee Craig made $7.25 an hour stacking cardboard cutouts for a local poster company.
After the training, he doubled his salary by cleaning oil off Gulf of Mexico beaches that was deposited there by the BP oil rig blowout.
"I'm loving it every day," said Mr. Craig, after finishing a 12-hour day of cleaning up oil in Panama City Beach, Fla.
As a foreman with First Response Inc. Environmental and Emergency Services, Mr. Craig supervises 10 to 16 people, makes $15 an hour, gets $30 a day for food and has breakfast and lunch sandwiches provided for him.
And at the end of the week, his boss said, he could expect a $500 bonus.
With the success of the first training program, which ended in February, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency now is accepting applications for the second round of job training until Aug. 13. All applicants must be at least 18, have a GED or high school diploma and be a resident of Chattanooga.
There is no cost for training, said Sue Knapp, senior planner with the Regional Planning Agency.
"It should give them an extra arrow in their quiver when they go looking for jobs," she said. "They will have a new set of skills to offer an employer."
The training is the result of a $200,000 Brownfield Job Training grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This is the last year of the two-year grant, which is expected to cover training for 15 people each year here, officials said.
Environmental cleanup is not the easiest job. Workers must endure extreme hot and cold temperatures and work long hours, said Yuen Lee, director of Information and Research with the Regional Planning Agency. But they're not just earning a paycheck, they're helping to improve their environment, she said.
Graduating students will receive certification and accreditation in hazardous waste operation and emergency response, asbestos and lead-based paint abatement. They also will get training in first aid, confined-space entry and aerial lift and forklift truck operations.
"You never know what doors will open and lead you to a new world," Ms. Lee said.
Mr. Craig is one of the first 15 students who participated in the training from Jan. 10 to Feb. 26. Eight of those students landed jobs in environmental cleanup.
Mr. Craig was hired by First Response June 29 and went to the Gulf of Mexico the same day.
"It's an opportunity of a lifetime," he said. "Look at where I come from, from $7.25 to $15 an hour."
He said his crew first cleans bottles and trash off beaches to make it easier to spot the oil. So far, there isn't a lot of oil, he said, but when it comes ashore it looks like dime- or nickel-sized tar balls. He bags the balls, counts the number of bags and hands them off to BP employees, he said.
Mr. Craig graduated from Riverside High School in 1977 and spent two years studying business at Tennessee State University before leaving without a degree. He never thought about owning his own business while working minimum-wage jobs, but now that he's increased his pay, he has hopes of investing in his own restaurant, he said.
"I'm going to have a chicken and waffles restaurant," he said. "Call it Bobby Joe's Chicken and Waffles."
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