Your future begins at Job Corps

Left to right, Business and Community Liaison Ann Sherman-White, student Rayshawn Scott and Brett Holder, student government president

ST. PETERSBURG — If you or someone you know is a Gen Zer and wants to embark on a career, there’s a school in Pinellas County that wants to help you reach that goal.

The Pinellas County Job Corps Center (PCJCC) provides free education courses and career training for young adults to take simultaneously. The center’s campus is located right on the Deuces at 500 22nd St. S.

The campus is set up with classrooms for academic courses for students to earn their high school diploma or GED, and they also have career-training facilities where students learn from experts and get hands-on experience. The age requirement for students has traditionally been 16-24, but due to COVID-19, the minimum age is currently 18 years old.

“The Job Corp program will surely change their life,” PCJCC Director Samuel Kalapo said. “We train them in the vocational training of their choice, and they obtain their qualifications. We work with them to make it easier for them to obtain their high diploma or GED.”

PCJCC offers courses in the construction and healthcare fields, where people can earn salaries ranging from $33,000 – $56,000 a year. Their specific programs include certified nurse assistants, pharmacy technicians, carpentry, plumbing, electrician training and more. The campus has medical and construction facilities where students can get hands-on experience taught by experts in the trades.

Training lasts between 18 months to two years, and the center’s staff assists students in getting a job in their field once they graduate.

According to the James G. Martin Center for Academic, the number of young adults who choose to attend trade school has skyrocketed within the last two decades; the number of enrolled students jumped from 9.6 million in 1999 to 16 million in 2014.

PCJCC Student Government Association Advisor and Business and Community Liaison Ann Sherman-White said those numbers of students are continuing to grow as more students decide against going to college. Even though college has been the traditional route, Sherman-White feels it doesn’t work for everyone.

“The pendulum swung towards sending everyone to college, without taking into consideration that college is not for everyone, nor is it the only way an individual can earn a livable wage,” she said. “This resulted in us having a shortfall of plumbers, construction workers, folks entering into the health arena, electricians, welders, things of that nature.”

Students may also choose to enter a trade school to avoid taking on student loan debt. In addition to the free education provided at PCJCC, there are incentives for students to be as involved in their education and campus life as possible.

“If they participate in our business meetings, if they participate in student government, if they have great attention in class, and they’re involved in campus, they can be rewarded with monetary stipends. So it’s an incentive for them to really take what they’re doing seriously,” Sherman-White explained.

Brett Holder, student government president

Sherman-White said most of the students are excelling at great rates, including two who serve on the center’s student government board: Treasurer and rising Vice President Ryan Irby and President Brett Holder, whose personal life experiences made them excel on campus.

Twenty-two-year-old Irby, who has attended PCJCC for two years in the certified nurses’ assistant (CNA) program, said he learned about the center from his older brother.

“I’d been out of high school for a couple of years, and I didn’t really know which way I wanted to go with my life, so I figured I’d look into it, give it a shot and see how it goes,” Irby said. “Honestly, it’s been a wonderful experience.”

Irby’s decision to become a CNA came from a personal experience. He lost his mother at a young age due to her not wanting to go to the hospital to treat a serious medical issue. His family didn’t know anyone who could provide health services for his mother at home. By becoming a home healthcare provider, Irby said he could help others facing the same situation that he did with his mother.

“I can help them understand why a parent might make that choice or help them figure out why their loved one doesn’t want to be in a hospital,” Irby explained.

Holder, 20, is in the medical billing and coding track at the center, and he’ll move on to an advanced track to also become a CNA. Sherman-White noted that Holder is also teaching himself about the stock market. When he graduates, he said he’ll most likely go into the military and join the U.S. Marines.

But two years ago, none of this was in Holder’s plans. As a high school dropout, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.

“I didn’t have a GED; I didn’t have a high school diploma. I didn’t really have anywhere to go. I didn’t really know what I was going to do,” Holder said.

His uncle, who was a traveling medical technician for multiple hospitals, told him about PCJCC. Holder, who was living in his home state of North Carolina at the time, said he was thrilled to hear about it and jumped at the chance.

“I was on the plane that weekend,” Holder recounted.

Once he arrived on campus, Holder got right to work in preparing for his GED exam. It usually takes three months to complete the course and test, but Holder received his in four days.

He received high marks on that exam, moved on to the medical program and started driver’s education. He’ll take his driving test this month and the state nursing board in April.

“Being in Job Corps, I have a stable place, you know,” Holder explained. “A lot of the stress was lifted off of me [from] working, paying bills and stuff like that, so I was able to focus all of my intelligence into just furthering my future.”

Both Holder and Irby had an active on-campus life as students and members of the student government, but COVID-19 altered their plans. Both of them are taking online courses with Google Classrooms, but that hasn’t stopped them from being heavily involved in the Student Government Association.

“The two of them have made sure that they attend every activity, and every meeting that is held virtually on campus, whether it’s a business meeting, a participation meeting, student activities, our meetings with the city or our center director,” Sherman-White said. “All of these meetings these two young men make sure they are part of, while maintaining the highest standard of academic advancement.”

Students who have been living on campus during COVID have been able to take part in a series of socially distant activities, such as socials, movie nights and special event parties. Sherman-White has also been working on the design and function of a brand new addition to the campus for the students, which Eckerd Connects funded.

“I’m very proud to say we have a student clothing store that looks like something that you would see in the mall, with clothing racks and it’s painted, and we have new as well as gently-used items that the students can have free of charge,” Sherman-White shared.

The store is open to the students every Tuesday, and they can shop for clothes whether it’s for a job interview or their classes. The store is the first of its kind and a prototype for other Job Corps centers across the country.

With all that PCJCC offers, Irby said the center provides excellent opportunities for new students.

“I would definitely tell them it’s a great program. If you’re having struggles with trying to figure out what you want to do, come join the program,” Irby said. “It can open a huge door into working professionally if you master that trade and get the certifications.”

To learn more about Pinellas County Job Corps Center, visit pinellascounty.jobcorps.gov.

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