Students earn credits, gain jobs through GRCC training program

New skills mean higher wages, graduates say

Gybran Vazquez smiles with loved ones after graduation

It wasn’t long ago that Gybran Vazquez decided he needed a change. He was applying stripes to parking lots for an asphalt company, but dreamed of what else he could be doing with his career.

“I thought this ain’t the life I want,” said Vazquez.

GRCC Job Training Programs

He’s closer to the life he wants, now that he has graduated from Grand Rapids Community College Job Training after devoting 34 hours a week for 18 weeks to learning about residential construction.

The Wyoming resident is now ready to continue working toward his goal of getting his associate degree from GRCC and eventually start his own property management company.

“I always had the vision where I want to be my own boss someday,” he said. “I am taking the steps to get there.”

After more than 600 hours spent learning to build houses, fix cars, take blood pressure and complete other skills needed for jobs available in West Michigan, 52 students graduated in December from the GRCC Job Training programs.

Nick Paddock graduates from the GRCC Job Training automotive technician program

A Path Toward Success

They will land jobs as automotive technicians, computer support technicians, machinists, medical assistants, electricians and in other occupations that require certifications and specialized training. Each year, more than 300 people graduate from the fast-paced, full-time programs, which aim to produce highly skilled new employees with  appropriate credentials for jobs.

“We often get students in the program that haven’t had great success in traditional education,” said Julie Parks, GRCC executive director of workforce training. “Eighty percent of classes are hands-on; they earn national certifications and they see what they can do.”

That’s true for Vazquez, who dropped out of Lee High School as a freshman in 2010. Several years later he returned to adult education courses in Grand Rapids to earn his GED. From there, he was connected to GRCC’s Job Training Residential Construction Program.

He helped build houses, learning about blueprint reading, site layout, concrete, carpentry, door and window installation, roofing, siding, and interior finishing. He is now working full-time in carpentry, earning more than $20 an hour, compared to the $14.50 per hour he earned before.

Vazquez said he feels more confident about pursuing opportunities. “I feel way better now. I can actually speak up and say something now that I have my education.”

While working is most students’ goal, they earn 12 to 16 articulated credits through Job Training programs toward an associate degree, which many come back for after working a while. Many students are motivated to continue with skills training in some way to improve their income potential. They also build a network of people in their industries.

Nick Paddock shares the moment with his children

Hands-On Experience

Nick Paddock graduated from the automotive technician program, which focuses on diagnosing and repairing vehicles, from brakes to steering. He enrolled in GRCC Job Training after losing his job in January from a car dealership.

“I decided, ‘I’m off. I need to do this to better myself,’” said Paddock, who has two children, ages 8 and 10, with his wife, Lynne.

He is now working for DeNooyer Ford, in Kalamazoo, as an auto technician, a job he was hired to before even graduating from the GRCC program. He is making $17 per hour, compared to the $10 per hour he made at his former job.

‘I can actually speak up and say something now that I have my education.’ — Gybran Vazquez, graduate of GRCC Job Training program

His family is more financially comfortable, he said. His wife works as a patient care assistant at Bronson Hospital.

“I have been recommending the program quite a bit to people,” he said. “You get the hands-on experience. … I personally learn better by getting my hands on things.”

Programs cost between $5,000 and $7,000, but most students receive scholarships, financial aid or support through the U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. Many are able to complete the program without going into debt.

Going to GRCC was a great choice,  Vazquez said.

“I definitely recommend it for anyone who wants to pursue their goals. Once you’re in the groove it goes by quick. … It’s fun to learn different stuff you don’t know.”

Gybran Vazquez officially graduates from the GRCC Job Training residential construction program
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. She has been covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network since 2013. Read Erin's full bio or email Erin.

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