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Getting workers back on track



Published: Sat, September 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Workforce Connections program helps people assess their skills and get additional training when necessary.

By SHERRI L. SHAULIS

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- David Pernice, like many of his classmates, took college courses after he graduated from high school in 1972. He also worked full time, starting at the bottom of the ladder at Copperweld Steel.

But the schedule, and the reality of the situation, started to get to him.

"Even with my degree, I couldn't have got a job that was paying me what I was making at the mill," the Warren resident said. "It wasn't in my best interest at the time to keep going to school."

So he dropped out, just one course shy of his associate degree in electrical engineering.

Pernice, now 48, always planned on going back. He figured he would work his 30 years at Copperweld Steel, which became CSC Ltd., retire and then go back to school, taking classes that interested him.

He figured he was right on track with that plan. With 27 years and eight months in at CSC, things were going well. The company had even sent him to Germany for 10 days for some training on making operations at the local plant better.

"I thought, 'Man, we got it made,'" he said. "I had one of the best jobs, one of the highest-paying jobs. We had no idea what was going to happen."

What did happen was CSC closed. On Jan. 2, 2001, Pernice was one of the first employees laid off.

"I was that close to getting my pension," he said, holding his thumb and forefinger only inches apart in front of his face.

Pernice and his co-workers were shocked but struggled to keep moving. Living in the same home he grew up in, Pernice and his wife, Loretta, needed to find a plan that would help them survive.

Tough making ends meet

Though he was entitled to a portion of his pension each month, Pernice said between the car and house payments, it wasn't always enough.

Pernice visited the local unemployment office, looking for help in securing a new career. But, he said, officials there told him he wasn't really qualified for full unemployment benefits, since he was only one class short of his associate degree in electrical engineering.

"They told me one more class and I would have a 'marketable skill,'" he said. "But just an associate degree wouldn't have got me a job."

He kept his options open, even taking skills assessment tests at the unemployment offices. It was then that he met with Tony Laprocina, an employment services counselor with Workforce Connections of Trumbull County.

Workforce Connections, operated locally through the Trumbull County Department of Job and Family Services, provides a variety of services, including education and training, r & eacute;sum & eacute; preparation, direct referrals and more.

Laprocina said when officials learned of the closing of CSC, they sent a "rapid-response" team to inform the workers what services were offered.

As CSC employees and others took assessment tests at the unemployment office, they were evaluated for participation in the program, Laprocina said.

"We contacted them to see what direction they wanted to take," he said. "They make all their own decisions, we just guide them."

Types of services

Federally funded through the Workforce Investment Act, Workforce Connections works with clients to provide core, intensive or training services.

Anyone is eligible to participate in the program, but training funds are limited to clients who have exhausted preliminary steps in seeking employment.

Core services are initial assessments of clients' needs, and free information to access resources. Intensive services include diagnostic testing, career counseling and planning. Training services, which can include up to two years of educational funding, allow clients to receive training or classroom instruction geared toward employment.

"We have people at New Castle School of Trades, in truck driving schools, at YSU," Laprocina said. "It is so varied."

Clients using the training services of Workforce Connections are monitored before each semester to make sure their grades are high enough, and that they are taking classes relevant to their degree.

"We make sure they are staying on track," Laprocina said. "They must go full time, and they have to stay with course work designed for their degree."

Pernice is now taking evening classes, working on getting his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. He struggles with some of the work, especially computer programs.

"When I went to school before, everyone was using calculators," he said. "Now it's all on computers, and I never had training like that."

To keep up, he often heads to the library three or four hours before his classes start so he can study and do his homework. He plans to graduate next fall.

"It was always my dream that I would retire, go back to school and then get my degree," he said. "My plans just changed a little, is all."

For information on Workforce Connections of Trumbull County, call (330) 675-7710, or check www.odjfs.state.oh.us

slshaulis@vindy.com




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