Back to school and back to work

Pierce College offers workforce programs designed to help students reach new career goals and provides opportunities for them to find just the right fit in the job market. One of those programs is PierceWorks.
PierceWorks is only one example of a workforce-supported program, said Jo Ann Baria, the college’s vice president of workforce, economic and professional development.
“It is a transition program to help students determine a good career fit,” she said, adding that workforce education is defined as pathways for students that lead directly to employment.
Evelyn Brooks, program manager and instructor at PierceWorks, said, “I’ve been doing this program for 20 years, so I’m very passionate about it. I have seen so many changes in people’s lives, where they thought they had no hope left.”
The oldest student Brooks has seen go through the program was 74 years old and collecting unemployment. That student went on to earn a certificate in bookkeeping.
If prospective students are currently collecting unemployment, or have collected it in the last 24 months, they attend the classes for free, said Brooks.
Classes run Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Upon completion of the seven-week course, students receive 20 college credits.
Greg Kronlund knows firsthand how valuable PierceWorks is and how it can change lives. In late 2009, he found himself out of work and collecting unemployment after 41 years in the same job field.
“All of a sudden, everything fell apart and I was unemployed, and with all the skills I had, there was no way I could conceive of being unemployed for a month or so. When I hit 120 days and couldn’t buy an interview at 59 years old, it was suggested I try the PierceWorks program,” he said.
That decision changed Kronlund’s life for the better. Using the tools he learned in WorkFirst, he was able to launch a successful, new career.
Kronlund said when he started classes in PierceWorks, the only thing his old resume had done was to alert prospective employers as to how old he was. Through the dependable skills aspect of the class, he learned that he was a strong team leader, and he credits that information as the most important.
“Ninety-five percent of the people who apply have no idea what their dependable skills are and how to articulate them,” he said, adding that when he retooled his resume, he started to get call-backs from employers.
“I didn’t see that strength, but my peers did, and when I went back through my professional career and discovered that I could say I was a team leader and I led a sales department to a 107 percent increase in a three-month period of time, that was something I could show on paper,” he said.
The classes include 150 hours of human development and career transition and 60 hours of computer work. During this time, Kronlund discovered how badly he felt that he had never gone to college.
“I didn’t realize how much that bothered me. I got out of high school and went to work and worked straight through for 41 years,” he said.
Kronlund said the PierceWorks classes gave him the incentive and understanding about that issue in his life, so he enrolled in a two-year program at Pierce College
“I was a 60-year-old freshman taking an associate (degree) in business program,” said Kronlund, who graduated at age 62 with a 3.84 grade point average. He now works for PierceWorks as a program assistant, and Woods is his boss.
Baria said that Job Connections at Pierce College is a resource to serve workforce students and community members.
“During the intake process, students go through orientation and then some career exploration. Job Connections is a place they can go to do that research,” said Baria.
Job Connections helps students with resumes and interview skills. It also aids students in finding the career path that meets their interests and talents, as well as providing information about internships and work-study opportunities.
Job Connections manager Danny Marshall said they offer worker-retraining service and provide resources for people to find work.
Woods said she loves the transitions that evolve with students in the PierceWorks classes.
“This affects the students’ home lives, too,” she said. “I cannot tell you how many students I have served over the years who were on the brink of suicide and they came back to school, got degrees and are living life to the fullest.”


About the writer: Joan Cronk is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Senior Scene.