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Selena Catoe wanted a change.
Despite the poor economy and the fact that she already had a stable nursing job at Springs Memorial Hospital, the lifelong Lancaster resident was looking for a new profession. Catoe, 38, said she loves nursing but wanted to express herself in a “happier setting.”
“Event planning has always been something I wanted to do, but going into nursing was a career I could depend on,” she said.
After reading the newspaper one day last year, she learned about a series of job-training classes offered by Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont and decided to give them a shot.
Deciding on the organization’s hospitality and tourism class, Catoe split her days between school and work. Driving from Lancaster to Charlotte every weekday before work for six weeks, Catoe would begin class at 7 a.m. and finish by 2 p.m., just in time for her shift at the hospital.
“It was definitely a strain, especially since I’d work about a 12-hour shift,” she said. “Sometimes, I’d only get a few hours of sleep.”
There was no fee to take the class, but there were several requirements to apply, including a $10 fee for a background check and screening. She said applicants are also required to have a high school diploma.
Looking at comparable programs at other colleges, Catoe said the Goodwill program is a great deal. Some similar classes cost about $3,000, she said.
The training helped her build her resume and learn new skills on the computer, and allowed her to meet with actual hospitality industry managers to find out what skills and experience they’re looking for in an employee. The course also introduced her to informational interviews, a process of meeting with managers at a company to introduce yourself even if there are no jobs available at that company. She said this was a great way to build connections.
“Some people would think it wasn’t serious because it was by Goodwill, but it was like any other college class,” she said.
Last November, Catoe joined several of her classmates for their graduation from Goodwill’s Occupational Skills Training program. Out of her class of about 20 students, she said about nine students already have jobs because of the course.
“It’s real good for people that really need a job,” she said.
With the training course under her belt, Catoe is now working to gain experience in the field as she looks for a job. She’s helping plan small wedding banquets for family and friends and hopes to work with a mentor in the field before really striking out on her own.
“My understanding of what I could do was smaller before this (training),” she said. “Now I can see there’s a lot more opportunities out there.”
“I’m really glad I went for it for the simple fact that it did build my expectations to do more,” she said.
Goodwill helping thousands
Armando Barragan, spokesman for Goodwill, said the amount of people Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont has helped or trained tripled between 2007 and 2009, from about 6,500 people to about 18,000.
“As the economy worsens, we’ve seen people turn to our stores and we’ve also been able to help people with training,” he said.
Goodwill has six job resource centers, including two locations in Charlotte, that help people with resumes, computer access and career advice.
Barragan said the job-training program that Catoe attended has become very popular. The program offers classes in three subject areas, including a six-week construction class, a nine-week banking and customer-service class and a six-week hospitality and tourism class.
“You see people from all walks of life there,” Barragan said. “There are people who’ve been laid off, there are those who are trying to change their careers. Some are even coming out of retirement because they need to get back in the workforce.”
Over the last several years, Barragan said 2,853 people have contacted the local Goodwill operation to let them know they found a job because of their training there.
“With the economy the way it is, that number is amazing,” he said.
He said the job-training courses are a win-win for students and for employers, and will make students more attractive to employers because they have already been screened.
“The goal is to give people skills, resources and the confidence to go out and get a job,” he said.
“What’s special about Selena’s story is that she’d have to change from her nursing job. She didn’t have to be here. That’s dedication,” he said. “She wanted to expand her options. She graduated and that was the ultimate commitment.”
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (803) 416-8416
There are two Goodwill job resource centers in Charlotte, one at 2122 Freedom Drive and the other at 5125 South Blvd. These centers help people with resumes and other basic job skills at no charge. The Freedom Drive location also offers three free job training programs in banking and customer service, construction and hospitality and tourism. To learn more about these programs call (704) 372-3434 or visit online at www.goodwillsp.org.