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16 November 2007

HACC can help workers survive job loss

Losing a job can be devastating, leaving dislocated workers feeling lost, frustrated and immobilized.

HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College can help dislocated workers survive the trials and tribulations of unemployment via the HACC Education Assistance Program (HEAP), in partnership with PA Careerlink and funded by a grant from the State Department of Labor.

Through HEAP, qualified applicants can receive help with tuition and the cost of books for HACC programs that will help them learn new skills necessary to gain employment. HEAP offers a wide range of training and education opportunities for high demand occupations ranging from accounting to visual arts. Students can enroll in just one course as a refresher or in a diploma, certificate, degree or non credit program.

"Dislocated workers have often lost jobs that have become obsolete or scarce, or they can no longer physically handle the demands of their job, or they may desire a more secure or fulfilling career," said HEAP's Coordinator Kathleen Wildauer. "HEAP can help dislocated workers start over in different field and improve their chances of getting a good job."

HEAP was launched in early 2006 and has already provided tuition assistance to approximately 125 students.

Peggy Nesmith of Dillsburg is just one of the program's success stories. "The best thing that ever happened to me was getting laid off. Now I have a job I love! If I would have never gone through the HEAP program I would still be out there looking for a job for $7.50 an hour," said Nesmith, whose new job is at Greenhorne & O'Mara Consulting Engineers in Mechanicsburg. She found herself without a job in 2006 when her company downsized, leaving her feeling lost: "I didn't know what I wanted to do." With more than 25 years of administrative experience and an impeccable work ethic, she still worried that it would take her a long time to find another fulfilling and good paying job.

After attending a workshop offered by CareerLink, Nesmith heard abut HEAP. She discussed her career goals with Wildauer and was pleasantly surprised when she found out she qualified for the program. "At first I was a little bit reluctant, because of my age," she admits. "I thought I was too old to go back to school. But Kathy said I was never too old to learn new things."

Over three semesters, Nesmith took a multitude of online courses, such as Human Resources, Project Management and Principles of Leadership along with diverse computer courses like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Access. "The program was fantastic, the more I got into it the more classes I wanted to take. I was on the dean's list and received all A's. It really was an ego booster." Completing these classes helped Nesmith build her resume and that helped her land her current job. "Had I not had that portfolio I would have not gotten hired."

Paulette Smartschan already was a HACC student when she lost her job.

"I was in the right place at the right time: My company had just done some downsizing and one of my professors passed out papers about the (HEAP) program. I wasn't sure I would qualify but once I met with Kathy Wildauer, I realized I qualified and they helped me from there."

Smartschan, who had worked in the food manufacturing industry for 27 years, was ready for a career change. After attending the HEAP program, Smartschan furthered her education and now has a rewarding career with the Pennsylvania State Police, along with her Medical Coding Certification from the American Medical Association of Coders. "I enjoyed all my classes and the professors were outstanding," she said.

The classes that the students choose prepare them for future career opportunities; yet the program also lends itself to some invaluable networking opportunities. It isn't uncommon for students to find job opportunities due to the networking aspects of the program.

Robert Clemson of Annville was an unemployed Help Desk technician who wanted to move out into systems security. "I met with the instructor and he told me the best way to get started is to get you're A+ Certification. I went through the A+ course at HACC. It was an all-around good course, I learned quite a bit, it gave me a lot of insight and it was very helpful."

Clemson attended the class from January-March 2007, and through networking with HACC staff and others was hired as a Field Support Engineer at Pomery IT Solutions in February 2007.

In order to be considered for the HEAP program, applicants residing in Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry or York counties must meet the following qualifications: employed full-time for at least 12 consecutive months with the same employers as a permanent, non-seasonal employee; displaced on or after Jan. 1, 2005, and eligible for unemployment compensation; currently unemployed or working part time and not receiving any other alternative tuition assistance.

To begin the process, visit a Pennsylvania CareerLink Office. (Find a CareerLink nearest you.) After meeting with CareerLink staff, if you are determined eligible, you will be referred to HACC to complete the enrollment process.

"There are a lot of people who don't realize there is help out there, but the people involved in the program really take the time to sit down with you and explain everything and tell you how you can take advantage of HEAP if you qualify," said Nesmith.

Nesmith, Clemson and Smartschan are firm believers in the program and still pleased with how quickly and easily they found new employment. "I just ran into three or four people who didn't know about (HEAP)," said Smartschan. "I told them about it and they weren't sure if they qualified. After reviewing eligibility requirements, I think it is definitely worth the phone call to see if you qualify."

Questions about HEAP procedures and eligibility criteria can be directed to HEAP Coordinator Kathy Wildauer at 221-1389 or send her an e-mail at the address below.

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