At 52 years old, Lennie Alvarez found himself out of a job and without more education unable to get hired in the field where he'd worked for decades.


"About three years ago, I got laid off from my company that I was with for, like, eight years," he said. "That was right in the middle of the economy doing it's thing. I was out (looking), man, but I couldn't find anything, anywhere."


It was frustrating to Alvarez because he'd been doing electrical contracting work for years and it wasn't a question of not having the skills for the job.


"Growing up, doing electricity was always easy because you could always work under the contractor's license. I did everything," he said.


But the recession had dumped him into a job market where certification was required to get hired, but going through a multi-year apprenticeship program at his age seemed unlikely.


"To be honest, I didn't have the money to buy in," he said, "and companies are not going to sponsor a guy who's 50 years old."


But Alvarez had an ace in the hole: his prior service in the US Navy from 1977 to 1981.


"I walked in off the street, talked to the girls up front" at the San Bernardino County Workforce Investment Board's Employment Resource Center in Hesperia. "My veteran's status, that opened up a whole other program for me."


Specifically, it made him eligible to receive federal job training funding through the Desert Green Veterans Grant.


"What we're doing with this grant (money) is to serve 100 vets, 50 of them the recently released, 50 of them from previous campaigns," said Kathleen Oles, deputy director of the San Bernardino County Workforce Investment Board. "We work with the customer to assess their skill gaps, to help them understand their skills and opportunities to help them get back into the workplace. ... To get them trained, if necessary, and ready for work in green technology and green employment."


The center typically trains the vets who've participated in the program for work in heating and air conditioning, solar power maintenance and transportation jobs that utilize GPS (global positioning system) navigation systems and alternative fuels.


"We want to make sure that we're getting our vets trained in programs that typically already exist," Oles said.


Alvarez enrolled in the heavy equipment operating program at the Deep Creek Construction School in Apple Valley. In three months, he completed the equivalent of a three-year union apprenticeship.


"I came out of there and I literally had a whole new lease on life from this program," he said. "Now I can call myself a heavy equipment-operating engineer, certified."


The center also helped Alvarez with other job-hunting skills, including helping him to create a video resume.


"I've already got jobs waiting," Alvarez said. "I feel awesome every day, man. I feel 100 percent different. I feel good, I'm sleeping good. ... Everything has turned to the better."


The Workforce Investment Board still has more grant money available for veterans seeking work, and is specifically looking for recently released veterans. Veterans only need to stop by their local employment resource center and identify themselves as a veteran. They also have other programs available for civilian job-seekers.


"Any customer who comes into our centers, they receive all the same services as the vets would receive," Oles said. "Sometimes it's training, sometimes it's not. ... We have a large business services unit that works with the business community that connects job-seekers with employers."


"I have turned around," Alvarez said. "I know I'm going to be a success, I know I will. The program has made all the difference."


For more information on job programs available through the Employment Resource Center in Hesperia, call (760) 949-8526 or visit SBCountyadvantage.com.