VIDEO: Programs send local man back to Clark College for retraining

By Susan Parrish, Columbian education reporter

Published:

 

Retraining

Clark College’s Worker Retraining office and Pathways office guide workers interested in returning to school.

Clark College Worker Retraining Office: 360-992-2274.

Clark College Pathways Center: 360-992-2747.

Other worker ­retraining programs

Commissioner-Approved Training

This state-funded worker retraining program allows unemployed workers to collect their regular unemployment benefits while attending an approved, full-time training program. Those in the program do not have to look for work while receiving unemployment benefits.

Workforce Investment Act

Twenty years ago, as a communications specialist in the Army, Dennis Davis jumped out of planes.

After being buffeted by the recession, Davis said he feels as if he's still falling.

"I've been in a controlled fall," said Davis, 47.

Working as a database technician for a small business in Battle Ground, Davis was earning $10 an hour — about $20,000 annually before taxes. His meager earnings barely covered rent, food, utilities, gasoline. He didn't have medical benefits or retirement, but his employer provided "a good lunch, every day," Davis said.

But in the depressed economy, his employer had to trim expenses. Davis was laid off in January 2012.

He signed up for unemployment benefits, and for the first time in his life, he applied for food stamps.

"Where I come from, you don't do that," said the soft-spoken man who grew up in South Carolina and Arkansas.

He began looking for a job, but didn't get a single response, let alone an interview. Davis doesn't have a college degree, but he'd taught himself to do technical work on computers.

Davis realized he needed to go back to school in order to land a living-wage job. A counselor at WorkSource, the state's employment office, helped Davis apply for a Workforce Investment Act grant to register at Clark College for the certifications he needed.

Davis' experience is representative of how federal, state and local programs can work together to help unemployed or underemployed workers get retraining to re-enter the job market. At Clark College, the Worker Retraining Office provides startup money for first-quarter tuition and books as students wait for other funding programs to kick in. The funding is available for students who are eligible for unemployment benefits. The office assisted 75 students for fall quarter 2012, up from the 33 students served during the 2007 fall quarter, when the economy was on steadier footing.

Clark College's Pathways Center provides workshops and information to help prospective students and job hunters determine what kind of jobs they want and how much education they need to reach their career goals. During busier months, 1,300 people use the Pathways resources, said Tiffany Williams, Workforce Pathways program manager.

"We help people find the right resources to transition into school or a job," Williams said.

With the downturn in the economy, the biggest gaps the center fills are teaching unemployed workers learn to use technology and helping people attain their GED. The center teaches résumé and cover letter writing and basic computer classes, all at no charge.

For Davis, returning to school was made possible by a robust financial aid package including the initial WIA grant, a state needs grant and Clark needs grant, work study and more. While he's getting assistance, Davis has stretched his dollars by making his own repairs on his 20-year-old car, among other things.

Davis took his first classes at Clark in summer 2012. He's concurrently pursuing two Associate in Applied Technology degrees, one in Cisco Networking Technology and the other in Microsoft Networking Technology. He plans to graduate in June 2014 with both major certifications.

That will give Davis the credentials to apply for computer networking jobs that "start at probably between $40,000 to $60,000 annually," he said.

But he plans to go further. Eastern Washington University offers a Bachelor of Technology degree at the Clark College campus. That would put him at an even higher salary scale. "Then I'll be back in the area I need to be (in), which is technical managing," he said.

Davis credits the excellent job retraining programs and funding, both through Clark and the state's WorkForce office.

Last month, he presented his student success story to the Clark College board of trustees.

"Getting into college was a godsend in so many ways," Davis said.

Susan Parrish: 360-735-4515; http://twitter.com/Col_Schools;susan.parrish@columbian.com.