Forklift drivers doing figure eights and dodging strategically placed mannequins were part of a type of skills challenge called Forklift Rodeo.

Lorrell Adams and Brady Deaton and other instructors at the Goodwill Industries Edgar J. Helms Center watched with joy as their students demonstrated their prowess on the machines at the new home for Goodwill Contract Services.

They are the ones who see the future drivers when they nervously approach the equipment, but leave three weeks later confident of themselves with a real possibility of a job.

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Deaton, an instructor, and Adams, a career navigator, also known as a case manager, say the transition for each individual makes their efforts as trainers worth their effort.

Each participant pays $25 to compete on the course, Deaton said. That is a worthwhile fee for them when the training they receive makes them eligible to apply for positions that average between $16 and $18 an hour.

Both smiled recalling the fierce competition at the event.

Trophies and championship rings are awarded for the competitors’ efforts.

Adams, who served as the forklift driver, and Deaton, the spotter, demonstrated the the delicate balance it takes to place a basketball on a cone, something the class participants learn while handling forklifts.

Goodwill’s specialized forklift training program is a uniquely designed shipping and receiving course that is being offered through a collaboration between Goodwill and Tulsa Community WorkAdvance, said Sabrina Ware, TulsaWORKS director.

The Helms Center, in the former Mileage Master Tire building, was formally dedicated June 8. The Forklift Rodeo demonstration was part of the celebration that followed the ribbon cutting ceremony.

Safety is the first part of the training, Ware said. Keeping the basketball on the forks and placing it on a cone is just one method of teaching operators about the equipment’s sensitivity.

The forklift classes, with between 18 to 20 students, meet from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the first three Saturdays of the month. Students must be at least 18 years old and the median age is typically between 30 and 40 years old.

Some may be employed and looking at the training as a way towards advancement, while others are wanting to get into the workforce.

Three Toyota electric forklifts are new, one equipped with a clamp, one with forks and the third is a pallet jack. An older propane-equipped Hyster also is used in the training. The goal is to help drivers become acclimated to the equipment and, with training, have access to available Tulsa-area jobs.

“Our clients are dislocated, laid off or want to get ahead in their current jobs,” Ware said.

Some clients find employment immediately. Others take longer, depending upon their background, work experience and where they can find employment.

Case managers through the TulsaWORKS Career Academy are assigned to each individual to help with the job search.

David Oliver, Goodwill Industries president, said they are excited about the Helms Center facility because it provides adequate training space.

“We have half a warehouse available, instead of one small space that previously was available,” he said.

The Saturday classes make it possible to expand and add equipment to provide a more well-rounded program. Students have more opportunities for hands-on experiences. Not everyone completing the training goes to a forklift job, but they have a skill so they can advance.

Some students are working but don’t have experience on a particular piece of equipment, Ware said. They may be in the warehouse tagging boxes or similar work. They see that operating a forklift is an advancement.

“We meet a variety of needs for those who are working, unemployed or underemployed,” she said. “It is a three week course and they receive a certificate of completion at the end of the training.”

The facility also has provided an opportunity for Goodwill Industries to consolidate the campus, Oliver said. Space had been leased in east Tulsa where outside contracts were met and the goal was to bring everything to this Southwest Boulevard location.

Goodwill Industries took over vocational training at Children’s Medical Center in 1999, he said. When the decision was made to close that facility, it was necessary to find another east Tulsa location because no space was available on the Southwest Boulevard campus.

The ability to bring in the 30 people participating in the disability training make it possible to integrate them not only in their current training, but also into the donated goods processing program, Oliver said. The people were doing assembly services for Whirlpool, AAA and other industries.

As the building was prepared, there was the opportunity to collaborate and start a shipping and receiving training class through a collaboration with Tulsa Community WorkAdvance.

The Helms facility also serves as an overflow warehouse for donated goods, he said. There are times during peak seasons that additional space is needed until the items could be processed.

Goodwill Industries had a $92 million impact on the local economy in 2015, Oliver said. There are approximately 2,000 people earning wages who came through Goodwill programs, which includes 1,070 placed in jobs and, counting turnover, another 800 or 900 people Goodwill employees.

Part of that $92 million included renovation work that was done on the facilities.

Growth is part of the long-range plan.

Hospitality training was added in 2015 and that program is getting started, Oliver said. “Demand jobs in the community are being identified and if viable training programs can be built around that need, then it will be added. We want folks to be job ready and take advantage of significant opportunities in the community.”

The Helms Center was named after Goodwill founder Edgar J. Helms, a Methodist minister in Boston who founded the agency in 1902.

Tulsa isn’t the first to honor Helms. It originally was known as the Morgan Memorial Cooperative Industries and Stores,Inc., named after the Morgan Memorial Church, where he was pastor.

Helms’ initial idea of giving free clothing away at his church was a disaster because people kept returning for more items, Oliver said. Then Helms hit on the idea of paying people to collect clothing from donors, repair it as needed and sell it for a small fee. That money would be used to pay the people collecting and repairing the clothing.

“That isn’t much different today, though training is a big focus of Goodwill Industries,” he said.

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