With an average unemployment rate of 12.2 percent, Pasco and Hernando counties have among the highest numbers of unemployed workers in the United States.
To help job seekers get back on their feet, $3.7 million in federal stimulus funds has been made available through the Pasco Hernando Workforce Board.
Dozens of unemployed residents and current students participated in a recent Stimulus Career Training Fair at Rasmussen College in Holiday.
"We were wondering, where's our help?" said nursing student Mary Tucker, who at midlife found herself unemployed. "It looks very promising. Now I'm seeing what (the stimulus) can do for people in need."
Tucker has had the dream of nursing for a long time.
Now, thanks to the stimulus, she's hoping to get a break on her PHCC tuition and books.
"My kids went off to college, and I said, I can do this!" Tucker said. "I'm going into a field where there are 55,000 openings in the U.S. I'm going to have a good job next year."
Career Central identified six targeted occupations for retraining scholarship funds. These fields are either currently in demand or are predicted to have an increased demand within the next year or so, said Joe Mascaro, Career Central operations manager.
"Health care and corrections are the only two doing well right now," Mascaro added.
Stimulus training funds are available in health care, corrections and law enforcement, firefighting, construction, auto body service and welding. Most of the training programs are geared toward a short turnaround and are available at several participating schools in the region.
Sara Guthrie recently moved to New Port Richey from Tampa. She spent time in the Air Force and is a single mom to 6-year-old Ryan.
Guthrie has thought about going into the medical field since high school, and one of the growing fields that piques her interest is ultrasound technology.
The program is a little longer than the one for medical assistants, she said, but the pay is much better. And she likes the idea of working one on one with people.
"To witness parents see their baby for the first time, or if someone is ill you need to be able to comfort them," Guthrie said.
The scholarship opportunities help make the path possible, but she will still need to work part time.
"I'm open to anything working with people," she added.
Institutions participating in Career Central's stimulus scholarships include Rasmussen College, Keiser Career College, Central Florida Institute, Pasco-Hernando Community College and Marchman Technical Education Center.
"It doesn't matter if you have a degree," said work force board vice president Ken Russ. "If you were laid off because of the economy, this money is for stimulus training. We'll get you quickly back to work."
Said Staceyann Sinclair, admissions director for Rasmussen: "Let's put some of those stimulus dollars to work.
"Get in, get the training, get out and start working," Sinclair said. "That's the goal, right?"