Newport News used federal grant to provide job training to people unemployed because of the pandemic

·3 min read

Sheilah Parker quit her job in Hampton to move to Texas to care for her mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer.

About a year and a half later — just before the pandemic hit — she moved back to Newport News. As the coronavirus closed many of the businesses in the state and across the region, she had a hard time finding a job.

Newport News launched the CARES Workforce Assistance Program in mid-September using federal funding to help people like Parker, who were unemployed or underemployed because of the coronavirus. It offered free workforce development training in industries that are in critical need of employees, and required the employers to pay at least $13.50 per hour. The training was offered in the healthcare, information technology, maritime, truck driving, and construction and trades industries.

The city hoped to enroll 215 city residents, but got 23 more than that.

“We were successful in that we demonstrated the need for Newport News residents to get industry-demand training for regional occupations in-demand within the 757. We also demonstrated the need for Newport News residents to be able to have a really personal workforce development service,” said program director Duane Poe.

The grant helped provide financial support for some of the programs including for gas gift cards, mileage reimbursement, uniforms, tools and boots. Those enrolled in the information and technology training were given computers if they needed them.

The training providers — Centura College, Shipper’s Choice, Healthcare Training Solutions, Talent Tech South, Hampton Roads Workforce Council and Virginia Ship Repair, and the Virginia Technical Academy — had to be able to offer short-term training certifications that would be recognized in industries that were relevant to the region.

Some of the certificates could be completed in as little as two weeks while others required 10 or 12 weeks. All of the programs have to finish by Dec. 30, as required by the CARES Act.

Parker was enrolled with Talent Tech South. She learned about seven different applications and user interface programs including Javascript and HTML.

Parker previously earned her associate degree in paralegal studies from Thomas Nelson Community College. She didn’t plan to pursue computer science until she had the opportunity through the CARES Workforce Assistance Program. She was looking for a job she would be able to do from home so she wouldn’t have to risk exposing her elderly mother and younger grandchildren to COVID.

“I am just so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to obtain these skills to definitely give me a different path and add onto the skills I already have and spark creativity,” Parker said.

“Who knows, we may be the next Bill Gates,” Parker said with a laugh. “I’m just so inspired by the information we learned.”

Poe said it’s not clear how many of the program’s participants will find employment in the field they’ve received training for because many of them will be working on their certificates until the Dec. 30 deadline.

Finding employment will be the next step. Participants have been receiving information about job fairs and relevant postings. At an employer engagement event in mid-November, Poe said approximately 30 people received job offers pending the completion of their certifications. Another opportunity is planned for January.

“We are hopeful that the city will be able to learn from the experience and leverage the experience and certainly seek additional funding for a program like this,” Poe said.

Parker said she can’t wait to use her skills in Newport News to show her appreciation for the opportunity. She’s hoping to find employment with a nonprofit.

“That’s the sector I really feel I could be a great help to because of COVID because now they have to really focus more on their outreach and nonprofits have not always had the ability to keep up with their websites or social media,” Parker said. “I think that would be a great way to utilize my skills.”

Jessica Nolte, 757-247-4513, jnolte@dailypress.com

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