SAN DIEGO — On their second day as apprentice mechanics at Hanson Aggregates, Jack Schwinkendorf and Sayra Martinez received bright blue tool boxes filled with Snap-On hand tools.

The two students from Palomar College’s Diesel Technology program were recently hired as part of a joint venture by Project Cornerstone, a local nonprofit, and the college. To help facilitate this program, Snap-On Tools contributed by providing the tools at a significant discount to Project Cornerstone.

“This is a huge leg up, in terms of getting a start,” said Schwinkendorf, 22, who lives in Rancho Bernardo and will graduate from Palomar’s Diesel Technology program later this year. “This is your foundation.”

Martinez, 23, lives in Valley Center and comes from a family of truck drivers. When she started at Hanson on June 7, she became the first female diesel mechanic at the company’s Miramar plant.

“Hanson delivers concrete that helps build our community,” she said. “Working in this field is really exciting, and I’m really grateful.”

In the field of diesel mechanics, as in other careers, it’s customary for workers to own the tools that they use on the job. But for those who are just starting out, the cost can be a serious barrier to entry in the job market.

Meanwhile, companies that need diesel mechanics are struggling to find people to fill positions.

“We have these journeyman mechanics who have been here for 20 or 30 years—they’re great employees, they’ve spent their careers here, but they’re all retiring,” said Hanson Human Resources Manager Tricia Reedy. “And I can’t find anybody to fill their spots. So we need to get these younger people in, get them trained, and then keep it going—mechanics, drivers, equipment operators.”

Project Cornerstone Executive Director Crystal Howard said her organization’s mission is to promote workforce development in the greater San Diego area. The nonprofit paid for the two new tool sets—along with one last month for Palomar student Orlando Perez—with a grant from San Diego County’s Neighborhood Reinvestment Program.

“We are very fortunate to have this partnership and to work with great companies like Hanson to provide our students with an opportunity to take what they learn at Palomar into their chosen field,” said Dr. Jack Kahn, Interim Superintendent/President of Palomar College.