Diverse group trains, retrains at Thomas Nelson Community College


Published: March 8, 2010

The Daily Press

A college graduate and a former construction worker going through the same program gives an idea of the diversity in job retraining seen these days.

Aspiring workers are flooding Thomas Nelson Community College’s Workforce Development programs, and they include the laid-off, degree-holding, degree-less and career switchers.

John Mitchell, 45, quit his brutal job with a stone company two years ago to train as a pharmacy technician, and went on to become a nuclear pharmacy technician. John Lorenzo, 23, couldn’t get into medical school after graduating from the University of Virginia last May, and is now in the same pharmacy program.

Medical careers are among the most in-demand fields right now, said TNCC Workforce Development spokeswoman Tia Freeman. Welding, manufacturing and computer training are also among the many programs offered.

“Our students come from a variety of backgrounds because, not only do we offer programs for them to enter fields, we offer programs for them to enhance their skills,” Freeman said.

The department helps more than 30,000 workers annually, working with more than 1,000 businesses and enrolling 14,000 people in classes, Freeman said. Workers have gone from looking for what they want to do for a career to training in a field where jobs are plentiful.

For example, TNCC places 70 percent of those certified in its 13-week welding program into jobs.

Mitchell’s previous jobs included construction and security.

During a security stint with K-Mart, one of the store’s pharmacists explained her work with nuclear pharmacy. They are specially-trained technicians who handle radiopharmaceuticals.

Keeping in mind that both the pay and hours were good, Mitchell maintained an interest in the field.

So in 2007, when physical labor for long hours left him lagging, he made a decision. He quit his job to go back to school full-time toward a TNCC pharmacy technician certification, which he then put toward getting certified in nuclear pharmacy.

Eventually, he was trained and employed by Cardinal Health in Richmond, where he currently commutes from Hampton five days a week. People had told him he was too old to be starting on a nuclear pharmacy career, but he didn’t listen.

“It pushed me more because I knew it was something I really wanted,” Mitchell said.

Lorenzo, a Hampton resident, earned a bachelor of science degree in biochemistry from the University of Virginia last May. Realizing his credentials wouldn’t get him into medical school as planned, he looked around for a Plan B and is still searching.

Meanwhile, he started taking classes at TNCC in January to become a pharmacy technician, and might continue on to pharmacy school.

“I thought about making a switch to pharmacy,” Lorenzo said. “I thought this would be a good place to start.”

A quick turn-around time is appealing.

“They come out and they want something quick, they don’t have time to go back for four or five years in this economy,” Freeman said. “So they come here for our fast-track program; that’s what we see.”

What is Workforce Development?

TNCC Workforce Development offers college credit and noncredit programs to train workers for jobs in a variety of fields, and partners with local businesses. Workers looking for new careers or those wishing to enhance their skills can be matched with training in fields that interest them or those that need workers. Financial aid is available.



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