Education, aid available to unemployed

Published 10:27 am Saturday, January 23, 2010

GATESVILLE – If you lost your job today, what resources are available to carry you through tough financial times?

If you are unemployed and wish to enter another career field, what types of educational opportunities are available to assist with that re-training effort?

Those questions were answered during a Town Hall meeting here Jan. 11 at the Gates County Community Center.

That meeting, hosted by the Gates County Board of Commissioners, was conducted in the aftermath of October’s announcement by International Paper that they would close their Franklin, Va. mill by the spring of this year. Of the 1,100 IP employees affected by the mill’s closure, 217 list North Carolina addresses. Of that number, Gates County leads the way with 84 workers. Hertford County (73), Northampton County (43) and Bertie County (7) also saw some of its residents affected by the closure. The remaining 10 North Carolina based workers hail from Chowan County, Perquimans County and Halifax County.

Last week’s meeting hosted representatives from Elizabeth City State University (ECSU), College of the Albemarle (COA) and Roanoke-Chowan Community College (RCCC). They provided overviews of their institutions and specialized training aimed at preparation for entry level and professional positions within the aviation field and general manufacturing industry.

Additionally, the meeting featured representatives from Northeast Workforce Development and the Employment Security Commission. Information was shared on how those agencies provide financial assistance during training, resume and interview preparation, job placement and other services that assist workers seeking employment and training for specific career fields.

Two educational representatives in attendance – Dr. J. Anthony Sharpe of ECSU and COA’s Dave Wessel – each addressed the advancement of the aviation programs at their respective institutions.

Dr. Sharpe noted there were 50 students currently enrolled in ECSU’s Technology and Aviation Science program. Graduates can obtain a B.S. in Aviation Science as well as training in minor programs – Flight Education, Aviation Management, Electronics, Avionics, Space Science, Air Traffic Control and Public Administration.

With the growing interest in aviation jobs offered by a private company under contract with the Coast Guard Base in Elizabeth City, Dr. Sharpe said he expects 80-plus students enrolled in the ECSU program this fall.

Long-range plans for the ECSU aviation curriculum include specialized programs for helicopter, seaplane and airship training; unmanned aerial systems; a master’s degree in aviation; and developing an aviation and space science resource and research center.

“There are a lot of opportunities coming down the pipe and ECSU is ready to prepare our students for those careers,” Dr. Sharpe said.

He added that financial aid and scholarships are available. For more information, visit or call 252-335-3400.

While the ECSU aviation program has been in operation since 1986, COA is in the infant stages of launching similar training.

“We are looking at making a six-to-eight million dollar investment in an aviation training program,” said Wessel, Vice-President of Corporate and Continuing Education at COA.

At the outset, Wessel said the program is up and running through a program that provides entry-level positions in the field of aviation. He said a sheet metal training program is underway.

“What we’re looking at in the near future is offering a full-fledged FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) certified program,” he said. “The first step in that process is to hire an aviation program director to get this program up and running.”

Wessel said COA officials are seeking federal and state grants as well as funding from private sources, including manufacturing firms, to make this program a reality.

In the meantime, Wessel said the Sheet Metal Worker program is intended for individuals who want to enter the sheet metal trade as an apprentice in either aviation or construction. It covers the basics of sheet metal fabrication and repair, with a strong focus on the skill sets required for entry level positions in the aviation maintenance and repair industry.

He added that other job skills training programs, using special funding made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, are now being offered under the JobsNOW program. They include Medical Billing and Coding, Energy Auditor Training and a related program in Human Resource Development.

“There is no quick fix,” said Althea Riddick, a Gates County native who serves COA as its Vice President of Instruction. “You’ll have to work hard…better educate yourself and refresh yourself in basic skills while you are waiting for a new career path to open.”

To learn more, visit or call 252-335-0821, ext. 2313.

Beverly Sessoms, Associate Dean of Work Force Development at RCCC, reminded the audience that, “Every exit is an entrance to something new; when a door is closed, another one opens.”

Sessoms also touted the JobsNOW programs offered at RCCC. They include Healthcare Coding and Billing, Phlebotomy (training prepares the student to draw blood specimens from patients for the purpose of testing and analyzing blood), Nurse Aide I, Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and Green Construction Trades (Weatherization).

Sessoms stated that RCCC’s “Ed 2 Go” program offers some courses online.

For additional information, visit or call 252-862-1279.

To help pay for these educational opportunities, those looking to re-tool their employment futures can turn to Northeast Work Force Development (NWFD), part of the Albemarle Commission.

Wendy Jewett, NWFD Director, was in attendance at last week’s Town Hall meeting. She encouraged individuals currently unemployed or those who are aware of losing their jobs in the immediate future to consider using educational offerings to re-train themselves for another line of work.

“If you are a dislocated worker, you automatically qualify for our services,” she said. “We will pay for up to two years of educational training, which includes transportation and books.”

Jewett said individuals may qualify for up to $8,500 in educational assistance.

To the displaced International Paper workers, Jewett said NWFD was there to help them.

“Our role is to help you navigate the process once you become unemployed,” she stressed. “Step one is you need to file your unemployment insurance claim in Virginia. Step two is you need to contact us at (252) 426-5753. We will match you with the training opportunities you are seeking. We will help you through this.”

The Employment Security Commission, represented by Ricky Coltrain and Judy Bonner, was also part of the Town Hall meeting. While ESC is the branch of government from where unemployment compensation payments are generated, they also assist dislocated workers with a variety of other programs.

“Employers list their jobs with us and we register people to fill those job openings,” Coltrain said. “We encourage all employers to list their openings with the ESC. It’s the fastest way to get the right person within our database of job seekers to fill those openings.”

Coltrain also informed those about to be unemployed to visit the ESC website and use the benefits estimator to figure out what their unemployment compensation payments would be.

For more information about ESC, visit or call the JobLink office in your local area – Ahoskie (862-1257), Edenton (482-2195) or Elizabeth City (331-4798).