Episode 110 VR Workforce Studio
Chris put some “drive” in his apprenticeship as VR Workforce Studio celebrates National Apprenticeship Week
VR Workforce Singers: VR Workforce Studio.
Debby Hopkins: They can be trained to be able to be a cyber security apprentice and then make nearly $100,000 often in the first year of their employment.
Announcer: Three, two, one.
Jake Hart: VR Workforce Studio, podcasting the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation through the inspiring stories of people with disabilities who have gone to work.
Flora Frazier: Working in a field that I understand.
Jake Hart: As well as the professionals who have helped them.
James Hall: A job and a career, you got to look at how life-changing this is.
Jake Hart: And the businesses who have filled their talent pipelines with workers that happen to have disabilities.
Debby Hopkins: To help expand registered apprenticeship.
Jake Hart: These are their stories.
Megan Healy: Because there’s such a great story to tell about people with disabilities.
Jake Hart: Now, here are the hosts of the VR Workforce Studio, Rick Sizemore and Betsy Civilette.
Rick Sizemore: Well Betsy, National Apprenticeship Week is November 14-20, our entire show today is focused on apprenticeships and our guests are going to destroy some of the myths about apprenticeship.
Betsy Civilette: And Rick you know there are so many misconceptions about apprenticeships, especially the industries that offer apprenticeships and the time it takes to complete a program. Really there are so many possibilities that are endless.
Rick Sizemore: Exactly, once you get into this a little bit, you realize that some apprenticeships can offer a really fast track to numerous high-paying careers.
Betsy Civilette: Absolutely and David Leon, from our Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, and Debby Hopkins from Appteon, join us today with practical tips and resources for people with disabilities who want to get into an apprenticeship.
Rick Sizemore: In our Big Inspiration Showcase we’ll hear from a man, whose life took an unanticipated turn in a parking lot of a truck stop.
When he blacked out and later woke up in the hospital with a disability that almost ended his life.
Betsy Civilette: And unfortunately this incident also ended Chris’s career as a truck driver, but Chris was so driven to succeed that he turned his life around by pursuing an apprenticeship opportunity in IT that paved the way to his new career as a software programmer. So you can say he went from “hard-driving” to “hard drives”. Har-har.
Rick Sizemore: Hard drives! Well with that we welcome Chris Wilson to the podcast.
Chris Wilson: Hey, thanks, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Well Chris, your story of disability started in the parking lot of a truck stop when you blacked out. Take us back to the day that happened and give us an overview of that life-changing event for you.
Chris Wilson: Sure, you know uh, the funny thing about it Rick, is, is up to that point, you know you have the DOT physicals as a truck driver, every, you know, year. And you know, the doctor’s always telling me, “Hey, you’re healthy as a horse, you’re healthy as a horse,” you know, “You’re, as a teenager,” right? So I’m walking around thinking everything’s good.
Rick Sizemore: That’s good news, right?
Chris Wilson: Yea well, at the time, right? Yea, at the time it was good news, and um, so anyway, I was on a, actually on a 36-hour reset, which is a break that truck drivers do after working, and I’m in Memphis, Tennessee, I’m at the truck stop and you know, I have to make use of the restroom inside the truck stop, we’ll, unfortunately, I never made it into the truck stop, I made it to the um, the repair bay before I actually blacked out. And then whenever I came to, you know, I found myself with a lot of people surrounding me, they had security there and such, and had an ambulance, and they loaded me on the ambulance and took me to the emergency room. And when I got to the emergency room I found out, you know, they’re, they’re telling me, you know your kidneys are shutting down, you’re, you’re livers fail, all your organs are, you know, basically failin’, um we’re gonna give you some fluids and run some tests and see if we can figure out what’s goin’ on. Well, they took a uh, chest x-ray and um, what they found is actually I had a pulmonary embolus, embolus um, that caused the initial event. So the doctor shows me the x-ray, you know, it looks like a shotgun went off inside of my chest basically from where this pulmonary embolus exploded, um, it hit my heart and exploded basically. Um, so you know, he’s tellin’ me, “Well, you know, we’re not 100% sure but you have swollen lymph nodes and we think you have cancer.
Rick Sizemore: Mm.
Chris Wilson: I’m like, oh, ok, so I’ve got cancer now on top of this, right? Um, so, I, I, go home, of course, you know, and quit driving trucks because obviously I’m not fit for, you know, to do that anymore, um, get hooked up with my local doctors and you know, they run these barrage of tests to tests, to tests and I go to this doctor and you know, I think I was on about my seventh specialist and a year has passed in this time.
Rick Sizemore: Mm.
Chris Wilson: And they’re like, “Well we can’t find nothin’.” So…
“So, we’re, we’re, we’re still gonna assume it’s cancer,” and I’m like, why, you know, I’m not good with that. So I actually go down to the Medical University of Charleston. Uh, anyway they come back and they’re like, “Oh, well you, you have this disease called sarcoidosis,” and you know during all of this time that I’m going through all of these crazy treatments and different medicine with different side effects and stuff, is when I actually started my, I started my journey um through IT probably about six months um, after I had my um, my initial disability. You know, I kind of hit a wall, right? Because I realized I can only go so far teaching myself.
Rick Sizemore: Mm-hm.
Chris Wilson: So once I hit that wall I said, “Well let me start looking through these boot camps,” because I knew I couldn’t just through regular college ‘cause I couldn’t sit in a class full of people because of the way my immune system was.
Rick Sizemore: Mm-hm.
Chris Wilson: Um, so you know I went, ended up goin’ through a one-year boot camp for a full stack developer, and then when I got finished with that I was like, “Well, you know, let me look and see what other options are out there,” and, and you know, that’s when I got hooked with the Franklin Apprenticeship program and became an apprentice and you know, it all, just kind of seemed like it just steamrolled from there, you know?
Rick Sizemore: That apprenticeship led you to a job at Black Knight Industries, tell us what you do.
Chris Wilson: Oh, oh man, I love my job, I could tell you that for a fact. I’m a, a, my official title I guess you’d say is a System Software Programmer. And uh, the basis of the sys, system software program is you know, you basically keep this massive mainframe running, um on a, not a hardware, but a software level.
Rick Sizemore: Mm-hm.
Chris Wilson: And um, a lot of the stuff that I do is to actually uh, take the program, it’s called JCL Job Control Language and the whole of the mainframe runs on these JCL programs and I take these programs, and modify it, we, we modify it to get the basically to get the machine to do what we want.
Rick Sizemore: Mm-hm.
Betsy Civilette: So tell me a little bit more about this boot camp and how you found Franklin Apprenticeship.
Chris Wilson: I realize I hit a stopping point after my disability where I could, I felt like I couldn’t train myself no more, so I needed outside help, I needed an instructor, I needed people that were goin’ down the same path. I was like, “Well a three-month, six-month boot camp’s not gonna do anything, it’s not gonna be able to give me what I consider a career” ‘cause you know this, I’m, I’m not lookin’ for a job, right? I’m lookin’ for a career. I’m lookin’ for something I can retire out of. So I started looking at one-year boot camps. And, and it, it was something about, Kenzie Academy is actually the one I ended up choosing. And it was something about their marketing technique and they promised to help, you know, you get a job afterwards. Um, it could, to give you the assistance you needed you know to really, to really form a career and, and I was like, “I’m sold, hook, line, sinker, let’s make it happen.”
Betsy Civilette: Great, so how did you get an interest in IT? What led you to that?
Chris Wilson: Uh, computers have always been a hobby of mine. Uh, back in, I probably worked on my first computer back in ’97 actually, and in 2002, since I, I ran a small business out of the house working on computers I actually went and got an A+ certification so that I could work on them and not void the warranty on them basically, that’s what most companies require for you to work on the hardware. And over the years, even when I drove trucks I would take a couple laptops with me, you know and nothin’ serious, like I said it was more of a hobby, you know, I would play on them, I, I would work on networking or you know, just do some research and such just to kill free time basically. Um, excuse me, but…
Betsy Civilette: That’s wonderful how you were able to, to take this hobby though and pursue a second career in IT and it sounds like you’re doing really well.
Chris Wilson: Yea, it’s, it’s been a blessing, I’m a tell you, uh, that for a fact, and I, but I’m, but I’m be honest with you though, and I talked to a lot of people ‘cause I’ve led a, uh I would say I’m a take a wild guess about 20 people through the Franklin Program, I’ve helped mentor and, and helped, you know, bring them to the program to see if they’re interested. Um, even though I do have prior experience with computers, the computing is different, so, you know a, a regular PCs not like the mainframe, and a lot of times you know, people’s like, “Well I have no computer experience.” Yea, but my, that experience for their PC doesn’t really transfer over to the the large enterprise systems and mainframe systems that’s available with these companies. So, I try to, you know, tell everybody that with, with a little training and a little work, anybody can do it and I, and I truly believe that.
Rick Sizemore: Yea, so you had a life-changing event, you picked up a lot of different pieces, a lot of people helped you, you created a career path that as a person with a disability what would you have to say to others who may find themselves in a similar situation, about having a disability and going into an apprenticeship… a lot of people out there with disabilities are thinking about where they go from here and apprenticeship, vocational rehabilitation, internships, on the job experiences are really appealing to a lot of people, but is there anything about your disability and the experience you’ve gone through that you would want to share with people maybe in a similar circumstance?
Chris Wilson: Um, yea, uh, just to be open and honest, um, and candid about the whole…
Rick Sizemore: Yea absolutely.
Chris Wilson: Situation, I mean it’s, yea, yea, it’s, it’s a lot of work. I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s, it’s taken a lot of willpower, you know, it’s taken a lot of work, but I will say in the end it’s worth it because you, you really have to step back um, what I found is I had to really uh quell the voices of people that had brought negativity into my life at that time.
Rick Sizemore: Mm-hm.
Chris Wilson: You know, ‘cause I had a lot, I, I’m, I’m be honest, I had a lot of people tell me, “Man you’re crazy, you’re, you’re workin’ 16 hours a day disabled, dude just you know, go be dis…” I, I guess in their head, you know, “Just go be disabled.”
Rick Sizemore: Yea.
Chris Wilson: Don’t work this much, don’t you know, don’t put this effort, don’t put this time in, but see I’ve already had, I, in my head I had a one-year, two-year, five-year goal and no one was gonna stop me from meetin’ those goals. I can tell you that, my, you know, my one-year was to get through the boot camp, my two-year was to start a career of some sort, you know this is pre the apprenticeship of course, and pre all this other stuff, and then my five-year was to be sittin’ comfortably, not disabled in my career. Well, I feel like I’ve done that and succeeded more than my original intentions were.
Rick Sizemore: It seems like you’ve realized a vision for yourself and career.
Chris Wilson: I did, I, I, I yes sir, I had, I had to really step back and, and, and I, I almost say that played a big part was the visualization right? I had to every day I got up, you know, I had to tell myself, “Hey, you’re a, you’re a, a frontend developer, go do frontend developer stuff,” get up at 7 in the mornin’, go, you know assist people ‘til 8, go to school from 8 to 6, at 6 eat supper, you know, keep workin’ programmin’ ‘til 10 at night, go to bed, rinse and repeat, do it again. Part of my disability actually affected some of my cognitive and language skills, so I was fighting that battle at that time also. Um, the learning, it, it took me three times as much to learn as what it seemed like it did everyone else, so that was part of my battle and my disability I had to deal with at the time.
Rick Sizemore: Well it’s an awesome story.
Betsy Civilette: Thank you Chris for sharing this story with us, um, I have to say I was very impressed with how driven you are that you had these plans before your disability, but to, to actually exceed them with your disability is just, is amazing and um, my hat’s off to you for um, and much success.
Rick Sizemore: Chris Wilson completed a apprenticeship, works in the IT industry for Black Knight Industries, thanks for being on our podcast today.
Chris Wilson: Thanks Rick, I appreciate you and, and I appreciate you let me share my story too.
Rick Sizemore: Yep.
Betsy Civilette: We are fortunate to welcome David Leon the DARS Director of Workforce Programs who is leading efforts to provide apprenticeship opportunities through the Pathways Grant here in Virginia, welcome David!
David Leon: Thank you, Betsy!
Rick Sizemore: And Debby Hopkins with Appteon, Debby is a nationally recognized expert in apprenticeship and has helped establish an extraordinary array of apprenticeships all across the country and over the past decade in a variety of industry sectors, not the least of which was the industrial manufacturing technician apprenticeship at The Hershey Company, welcome Debby.
Debby Hopkins: Uh, thanks Rick, so glad to be here.
Betsey Civilette: Well David and Debby, Happy Apprenticeship Week!
Rick Sizemore: Woo-hoo!
Debby Hopkins: Yes!
Betsey Civilette: This has to be an important week that is near and dear to the work that you do in promoting apprenticeships.
Debby Hopkins: Yes, uh, absolutely, National Apprenticeship Week is a time when our, our nation really focuses on apprenticeship with hundreds of events throughout the country, uh, to try to showcase individuals, showcase programs, and really help to bring our country to a stronger um, uh, adoption of apprenticeship as a, as a very valid workforce training model.
Rick Sizemore: Yea David, with such an emphasis on apprenticeships as a route to the workforce, DARS is moving forward with a new Pathways Grant, give us the quick overview of what you’re trying to accomplish through the grant.
David Leon: Thanks, Rick. First and foremost our goal is to help 750 individuals enter into career pathways or advance in their career pathways with a focus on registered apprenticeship, state, local, and federal government stem and skill trades. We hope within that, that our partnership with the Department of Labor and Industries, Office of Registered Apprenticeship will lead to a significant increase in the number of our clients who think about and enter into registered apprenticeships through employer sponsors, through our state program, uh, intermediaries like Appteon and through the federal apprenticeship program. We have done a couple of unique things, we were able to get the buy-in from both our Department of Labor and Industry and our Department of Human Resources Management, each of those agencies has a grant-funded VR liaison position to focus on increasing the opportunities for um, individuals with disabilities to enter into those two types of work. In addition, we have what we have labeled “a quick response counselor” and that individual is there to help folks who may have entered into registered apprenticeships and has a hidden disability or did not disclose and get to a point in their related technical instruction where their having difficulty with an exam or some other issue, our quick response counselor can come in, help identify potential accommodations, um, and other supports so that the individual will be successfully able to pass any of the credentials or other exams related to their apprenticeship.
Betsy Civilette: Well thank you, David, uh, Debby let’s talk about some of the myths about apprenticeships. What are some of the assumptions people have about apprenticeships that are just not true?
Debby Hopkins: Thank you, Betsy. I’d actually say there, excuse me, there are probably three big myths. Um, the first one is that the employers must be sponsors themselves of apprenticeship to participate. And that is just absolutely not the case, a great number of employers, especially in the tech industry, have decided to group, or find a group sponsor like um, the candidate that you just spoke of, or you’re going to be speaking of today with Franklin Apprenticeship, they’re group sponsors, the employer can work with them to get the talent that they need and they’re supervising the on the job learning and then keeping them on as a, as a full-time employee. So that’s one myth, the employer themselves do not have to be the sponsor in order to participate in apprenticeship. The second one is that apprenticeships are only for construction trades, now while apprenticeships do have a very dynamic and very long history of success in construction, some uh, tremendous investments have been made in construction, they have great training centers, there are wonderful individual and joint programs in, in construction, but it’s not limited to that. Today’s apprenticeships are in IT, financial services, healthcare, hospitality… The third one, assumption that is not true is that apprenticeships take four years to complete. That notion was from the older construction trades and yes, many of them do take four years, but IT apprenticeships are usually one year long, financial services they’re usually one year long, so there are some short, very targeted programs and many other industries and with either directly with the employer or with a group training sponsor or education institution uh, where a program can be launched.
Betsy Civilette: Well thank you, Debby those are some really great points about um, it, it really the mindset of why, how, about apprenticeships and really the expansion of, of all the fields that uh, are possible to do an apprenticeship.
Rick Sizemore: Yea, we’re, we’re really at that time, uh, if you listen to this show, you know that I have an 18-year-old daughter, Katelyn, and my wife Christa and I, we spend a lot of time talking with her about where she’s heading career-wise, so Debby, if I wanted to help Katie find an apprenticeship, and figure all this out, what’s the most important advice I could give her? ‘Cause trust me, I need it.
Debby Hopkins: Well 18 years, it’s a wonderful, it’s a wonderful age and it’s the time of exploring, it’s the time of exploring all your options to see what’s out there and apprenticeship is certainly a very viable option. One way to take a look at that is to take assessments and some of these apprenticeship group sponsors have their own assessments on their website that can kind of help you see, do have an interest or an aptitude. Many workforce development boards have also had assessments to help figure where your career might be and do they have apprenticeships that can relate to that. The um, one of the bigger sites is apprenticeship.gov the uh, government has, has made a tremendous investment to these free resources just to help explore uh from an, from an individual standpoint as well as a, as a business standpoint, apprenticeship, where your interest might be, where there are job openings, uh, on Virginia’s per se, there also has uh, uh job postings. You can go look at the apprenticeship website which happens to be in Department of Labor and Industry in Virginia and take a look at some of those jobs, how do they sound, and just start exploring. Another way is to really contact an intermediary uh, like, like Appeton for a referral. It’s great to check out your options, uh, college is also uh, not an, an exclusive “and/or” with apprenticeship, many colleges today are developing apprenticeship programs that are two-year degree apprenticeships, and just this week I met with a, with a group who has a, what we would call, “two plus two,” they have a two-year community college apprenticeship that can then go to a four year BS degree so it’s not mutually exclusive, there’s a lot of options out there Rick for your daughter.
Rick Sizemore: We want to help Katie and others find all this, so we’re gonna put together a resource list for the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com and I’m especially gonna sit down and review all of this with Katelyn, but I’m not an expert in anything.
Never have been, except being a dad because I’ve done that four times now, and I’m tellin’ ya, 18-year-olds face an entirely different landscape in this day and time, they are into exploration and they will change jobs every three weeks, so it’s important to harness that, that interest in all these other areas and get it connected to an assessment and get them on the path… are you listening Katie?
On the path to a career track, and she’s eager, and she wants to learn so I’m sorry to take up so much of our show, but I think her interest is so reflective of what you find in the potential workforce for tomorrow, so thank you. So if I’m a person with a disability, I’m getting very, very excited right now about being able to go to VR and then pursue apprenticeship through Voc Rehab, we’ve provided some great resources. David, if I’m a counselor and I haven’t done this before, who within your set of resources can help me as a counselor move all this forward?
David Leon: The best place to start would be our DOLI VR liaison and our Pathways team or the folks at WWRC if someone had gone through their programs as Debby mentioned when we provide clients with skills and training they often are the first steps in many of the apprenticeable occupations within the state. I would start with, where is somebody, what are they doing now so that we have a pathway towards more employment opportunities that include registered apprenticeship.
Rick Sizemore: Resources are in place, if you’re a person with a disability, or your family member is, has a disability and they want to get into the apprenticeship track, now is the time, right David? I mean now is the time more than any other in our history, apprenticeships are on the rise and they’ve become the way forward.
David Leon: Absolutely and just to share one other story, my daughter graduated from uh, college two years ago and ended up in an apprenticeship. She’s doing great, she now has a, a company vehicle and um, makes more money at, at 24 then, then I did at 35.
Rick Sizemore: Amazing.
Betsy Civilette: That’s wonderful.
Debby Hopkins: Northern Virginia Community College, their Walmart asked uh, Northern Virginia Community College um, and, and several um, uh, Virginia Tech and other schools to come and, and talk uh, talk with them, interview with them for um, for uh IT/cyber opportunities and uh, the ones that they hired had not even finished a two-year degree and they started at $94,000.
Betsy Civilette: Debby um, you touched on the myths about apprenticeships, but can you highlight some of the obstacles that we still need to address, to increase opportunities for our clients in apprenticeships?
Debby Hopkins: I still think that there is um, uh, it’s too pervasive of a myth in our country about apprenticeship not being in just about every occupation, so, so number one it is still increasing the understanding that every industry can have uh, can have apprenticeship. As far as, as an obstacle, it’s really just getting enough people in for these jobs. There is such an enormous uh, enormous opportunity for cyber security and too many people uh, whether they have a disability or not, too many people don’t believe that they can be successful in these careers and they can. There are pre-apprenticeships that are connected to most of these apprenticeship programs, you can tell, can go through some assessments, there’s often not even any education, often not even an aptitude, just an interest in cyber security, and in a short time they can be trained to be able to be a cyber security apprentice and then make nearly $100,000 often in the first year of their employment. Some of the best cyber apprentices came, you know, came uh, right from high school or right from military, which you would kind of expect or they messed around in other careers and never did find a fit, and all of a sudden they went through one of these, you know, went through one of these pre-apprenticeships um, and, like Smooth Stack, you know, they’re one of our partners, Franklin, they’re one of ours, New Apprenticeship is one of ours, you got a lot of partners, they all have good pre-apprenticeships and they start with an assessment, you know, and, and just see what, where their interests are and often that’s all you need to build, uh, to really build, with a good training, uh and good support, good coaching, like David said, to really build expertise quickly.
Rick Sizemore: This has been a lively, entertaining and informative conversation, I’ve enjoyed this so much, David Leon is the Director of Workforce Programs for the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services and Debby Hopkins is a nationally recognized apprenticeship expert, and the Director of Workforce Initiatives at Appeton Incorporated. Thank you both for being on our show today.
David Leon: My pleasure.
Debby Hopkins: Uh, thanks Rick, so glad to be here.
Rick Sizemore: Well it’s time for our National Clearinghouse report with the always entertaining and informative Heather Servais. Hey, Heather!
Heather Servais: Hey, Rick! Thanks for having me, it’s so good to be back.
Rick Sizemore: Launch party for The Clearinghouse! How did that go?
Heather Servais: It’s been a big month, we had very, very successful launch and we are so happy that we have the new system implemented. If you missed our YouTube premiere launch party, we invite you to check out a recording of the event. The recorded party includes remarks from RSA leadership, a tour of the new website, and exciting details about the future of the NCRTM. The link for that premiere party video will be in the show notes. We also have a short video overview of how to use the new system, so please we, we ask you to check those out on the website. Please note that both recordings include captions and ASL interpreting.
Rick Sizemore: Wow. Well I’m a huge fan of the Clearinghouse and talk with lots of people who use The Clearinghouse regularly, they love these changes, hats off to you and the team at RSA and at New Editions for all the great work you’re doing but we’re celebrating National Apprenticeship Week!
Heather Servais: We are excited to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week as well, I have two resources that I want to share with you all about apprenticeships, the first is the newest NCRTM curated list on inclusive apprenticeships, we just released this curated list last month and it includes 19 resources from varies sources including RSA TA centers and federal partners that puts all of these inclusive apprenticeship resources right at your fingertips so whether you’re an individual with a disability, a VR professional, an employer um, there’s plenty of information right there on that one list to get you started to learn about apprenticeships. The second resource I want to share with you is a new on-demand training that was released from VRTAC-QE and it’s called “Youth Apprenticeships and Rehabilitation Counseling,” engaging students and youth with disabilities to initiate a career path. This on-demand training explores how youth apprenticeships can be used by VR practitioners in the process and how they interact with pre-employment transition services and school-to-work transition programs. So this is really great if you want to dig into how those youth apprenticeships connect to career pathways, the workforce development and to show off some of that WIOA collaboration that’s happening between multiple stake holders, um and just as if that wasn’t incentive enough, there is one CRC credit offered upon completion for attending this webinar.
Rick Sizemore: And of course, you can always find the links that are provided on this podcast in the show notes at vrworkforcestudio.com. Thanks, Heather.
Heather Servais: Thanks, Rick.
Rick Sizemore: Well thank you for getting involved in today’s show, if you or someone you know has a disability, and wants to get into the workforce, vocational rehabilitation may just be the answer to kickstart your career. Visit us at vrworkforcestudio.com to find links and resources as well as our contact information. On behalf of my co-host Betsy Civilette, I’m Rick Sizemore inviting you to join us as we podcast the sparks that ignite vocational rehabilitation.
Jake Hart: The VR Workforce Studio Podcast is owned and operated by Vocational Rehabilitation’s Partners in Podcasting. Audio content for the podcast is provided to VR Partners in Podcasting by the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, in exchange for promotional considerations.