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Hernando County job retraining program teaches shipbuilding skills

BROOKSVILLE — In a crisp, new building in the Airport Industrial Park, 16 men arrive each day for class. Some are military veterans, and some have families to support. Some have been unemployed for well over a year.

All are hopeful.

"I've worked in construction most of my life as a day laborer," said John Reis, 42, who has been out of work for nine months.

The nonprofit Hernando Employment and Training Association was created specifically to train workers like Reis in new skills and help get them back into the labor force.

The founding partner of HETA, R&M Ship Technologies USA, helped with startup funds. The course costs $5,000, but most of the students qualified for training vouchers from Career Central. Those who did not get a voucher were able to work out a payment plan.

The first class for the three-month training program began in September; there are plans for more classes next year. The marine products company hopes to employ as many of the students as possible as joiners or manufacturers for a new product line.

That will happen as soon as the company gets contracts, said J.B. Bowles, president of R&M Ship Technologies, which opened in the Airport Industrial Park this year. "When we get contracts, we need workers," he said.

And in Hernando County, where unemployment sits at 13.8 percent, a company that's hiring workers fills a desperate need.

"I want a job," said student Donald Mayberry, 57. "When you're out of work for over a year, it's ridiculous."

Mayberry sent out nearly 100 resumes after he completed a course in heavy equipment last spring.

Not a single offer came from those efforts, he said. This time, he hopes things will be different.

Students in the class were carefully screened and had to qualify to participate. They are grateful for what they see as a second chance to learn new skills or try a new line of work.

"Construction is a second language and all I've ever really known," said Kyle Fenton, 20.

Fenton and his colleagues have found great transfer of skills between building homes with wood and building ships with metal.

Once students complete the course, officials say, they can take their skills anywhere. HETA president Edward Tordesillas has made contacts with other shipbuilding and repair companies in the region.

"When we did our research," said Tordesillas, "I could only find a couple of schools in the United States that train marine joiners. We are the only ones in Florida that are doing this training."

To help students get jobs, HETA also provides students with a week's worth of training in soft skills. The group discusses resume writing, how to dress for success and even body language, said project director Alicia Berrios.

"Our goal is to get them hired," Berrios said.

Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at slmarshall.sptimes@gmail.com.

Learn more: For information regarding the Hernando Employment and Training Association's upcoming classes, call (352) 593-4131.

Hernando County job retraining program teaches shipbuilding skills 11/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 28, 2009 12:52pm]
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