Blackhawk graduates new class of workers

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Jason Smathers
Saturday, August 7, 2010
— John Elliott couldn’t be happier to be late.

Elliott slipped into the certificate ceremony for the Career and Technical Education program at Blackhawk Technical College just in time to collect his welding certificate.

He was proud of the accomplishment but more eager to explain his tardiness. Thanks to Blackhawk, he had just started a new job at D&M Manufacturing.

The last few months had been a major turn around for Elliott. Last year, he was laid off from Rockford Manufacturing, where he had worked for 10 years. Since he’d worked as a machinist for 35 years, Elliott dreaded entering a job market with a limited skill set.

So he took advantage of Blackhawk’s Career and Technical Education program, which trains displaced workers to reenter the job market in a different field. A federal grant covered all tuition costs.

Friday’s ceremony recognized students who completed certificates in certified nursing assistantships, business and welding.

Elliott took the welding track, along with preparatory computing and typing classes.

But he also had a support network. Most of his classmates were longtime factory workers like him—one of them a co-worker at Rockford Manufacturing.

He also leaned on his typing teacher, Sadie Gunnink, who served as Elliott’s introduction to the program and first mentor.

“She’s fantastic,” Elliott said. “She was kind of my icebreaker here and thank God for that. If it wasn’t for her, God knows where I’d be now.”

While Elliott found his way back to work, others used the program for a complete career change.

Dan Wojszynski thought he had made his plans: work for four more years at Werner Electric in Janesville before retiring. Then, two days before Christmas, he was laid off.

Blackhawk managed to spark an old interest. Wojszynski served briefly as a field medic in Vietnam, which heightened his interest in paramedics after the war. But his high school education hadn’t prepared him for the work, so he went back to Werner.

When Wojszynski was offered the opportunity to enroll in Blackhawk’s career education program, he decided to pursue his medical interests and work toward his certified nursing assistant certificate.

While Blackhawk’s program has received new grants to continue serving displaced workers, the Southwest Workforce Development Board also is offering tuition grants to workers over the age of 50 seeking additional career development. About 70 percent of the program’s graduates will continue their education, seeking either new certificates or associate degrees.

Elliott and Wojszynski are proud to count themselves among them. Wojszynski plans to become licensed by the state and return to Blackhawk in the fall for an associate degree in phlebotomy, the process of drawing blood.

When Elliott was hired at D&M, his boss let him know they wanted him to continue working toward a one-year welding certificate while working part-time. He plans to return to Blackhawk in two weeks.

“Anytime you can educate yourself is a plus,” Elliott said. “The biggest thing is that it took my attention away from wallowing in my own muck.”

Last updated: 2:47 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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