Christal Padgett is one of those in McDowell whose life has been changed because of a class.

A single mother of three children, Padgett worked at a scrap metal yard until she fell and broke her foot. She told The McDowell News she wasn’t able to work and couldn’t return to her old job because of this injury. As she was filing for unemployment, Padgett learned about a manufacturing certification class offered through McDowell Technical Community College.

After completing this six-week class, Padgett was able to find a job at Metal Industries that she could do and it was a job she had really wanted. There, Padgett, 47, now glues insulation into heating and air conditioning units.

“I love my job,” she says.

This manufacturing certification class did more than help her find this job.

“It helped me learn more about myself,” she said to The McDowell News. “It helped me go to a job interview and do the right things and say the right things. It helped me believe in myself. In my opinion, anyone who wants to improve themselves needs to take this class.”

But this class, which helps unemployed people in McDowell County find work at our local manufacturing plants, is in jeopardy now due to the loss of funding. It may continue but the cost may be out of reach for those who don’t have a job. They are the ones who need it the most.

For two years, McDowell Tech has offered this class in manufacturing certification, which is based out of the N.C. Works Career Center on Baldwin Avenue. The class is held at the Career Center from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each weekday.

Those who successfully complete this six-week class are able to make connections with local manufacturers and earn safety certification with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). They can also earn certification in first-aid/CPR, career readiness and Microsoft Digital literacy and gaining an introduction to advanced manufacturing skills. Plant tours, job interviews, on-the-job training and apprenticeships are also available through this class. The class focuses on helping participants boost their attitude, initiative and attendance, said particpants.

And this class is offered free for the unemployed, like Padgett, or those who meet income eligibility requirements.

Mary Ledbetter, the director of the class and an instructor, said the program has expired the two-year federal grant called Jobs Driven Initiative.

This grant helped pay a part-time instructor’s salary as well as the qualified student’s certification fees, which came to $119.

Due to the expiration of the grant, the part-time instructor’s position will be gone. The national certifications, such as those for CPR and OSHA, also have a major expense and they won’t be available for free.

“At this point, we have two other grants that help pick up the fees (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Youth and Adult grants), but it does not cover all of our students,” said Ledbetter. “The class itself is tuition waived to low and no-income individuals.”

She added Terry Evans, the transportation director with McDowell DSS has been “phenomenal in securing transportation for our students and supporting them with transportation to their jobs following the six-week class.”

Ledbetter said she and others with the program want to keep it going and also make sure it is still at no cost for those who can’t afford the tuition. It is also turning out more qualified and motivated people to work at local manufacturing plants.

“It’s raising the standards of manufacturing,” said Ledbetter.

She and others are looking at ways to find more funding for the class.

“The class is going to continue with the next session starting Oct. 24, but if funding gets too difficult, we won’t be able to offer the certifications, which is what makes them marketable to the employers,” said Ledbetter. “Right now, participants who don’t qualify for any grants will have to come up with the $119, which is nearly impossible for the unemployed folks we serve.”

Overall, the manufacturing certification class has a success rate of 78 percent. Ledbetter said that means that out of 154 graduates, 120 of them have gotten a job. “This is quite an accomplishment considering some of the employment barriers we face - skill levels, criminal records, etc.,” she added.

Jennifer Jolly, 31, is another one of those graduates who found new employment. She was in the second class of this program in 2015. She had worked in a clothing store but was laid off. She tried to go back to school but couldn’t afford the cost. Like Padgett, she had two children and did not have manufacturing skills.

A day after completing this class, she was hired by the Coats America plant, where she is a spinning and twisting operator.

“The class was an eye-opening experience, especially for someone who’s never worked in manufacturing,” she said. “The skill sets you learn are definitely applicable every single day.”

Ledbetter said she will meet with the McDowell Employer Pipeline Committee (which was started by Jerry Broome with Region C Workforce Development) and other officials about coming up with a way to keep it going and keep at no cost. The hope is to not only continue it but expand it into other fields such as medical and construction.

“As far as the program as a whole, it has made a difference in a number of the graduates’ lives,” said Broome to The McDowell News. “Our hope is to expand the class and keep making it better. They have applied some of these principles not only to their work life but their personal life and they have seen a difference.

“Industry has identified a problem in finding people to fill entry level positions. And this is a way to solve that problem. It is not a McDowell County problem. It is a national problem. In the light of a 4.6 unemployment rate, we want to do a better job of connecting with high school seniors. The school system has been very helpful to us.”

He added this program is “not always batting a 1,000” but it is making a difference.

“We have some shining examples that we feel makes it worth it,” said Broome.

The next class will begin Monday, Oct. 24 and run through Dec. 8, Monday through Friday, for six weeks.

For more information or to register, call NC Works Career Center (formerly JobLink Career Center) at 828-659-6001, ext. 140, or ext. 101 for the front desk.

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