Program for Unemployed Workers Grants First 11 Proficiency Certificates to Students Ready to Start New Careers

PHILADELPHIA, May. 10, 2010 —Community College of Philadelphia will honor the first 11 students in the Kick Off Your Career program to receive proficiency certificates that will help launch their second, third, or even fourth career.

The ceremony will begin at 6 p.m., Wednesday, May 12 in Room C3-5 at the College’s Center for Business and Industry, 18th and Callowhill streets.

The 11 recipients are the first to receive certificates of the 75 participants enrolled in the program that began last fall with the help of a two-year, $360,000 federal grant to retrain unemployed workers. Other recipients will follow between now and May 20111. The grant is part of a total $6.7 million in workforce funding awarded to Philadelphia through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Among those receiving certificates is Yvette Jiggetts, 47, of West Philadelphia. Jiggetts was let go by her employer early last year while on family medical leave to care for a terminally ill son. At the same time, her younger son had just graduated high school and was preparing to attend college in Virginia and tuition was looming.

“I needed a job, but I knew the work I had been doing for the past five years as a provider services representative for a medical insurer was being outsourced overseas,” Jiggetts said. “Even if I found another job doing that, it would only be a matter of time before I was laid off again. I needed to find a new career.”

Her quest led Jiggetts to CareerLink Philadelphia, which referred her to Community College of Philadelphia, which was just starting Kick Off Your Career. The program offers short-term, career specific training in three career paths: Social and Human Services Assistant, Medical Insurance Billing or Network and Systems Administrator. All three could be completed in two to three semesters, a significantly shorter time-period than other certificate programs offered by the College.

Jiggetts was accepted into the Medical Insurance Billing Specialist Proficiency Certificate program, which she felt was a good fit with her past work experience. “It was a fabulous opportunity for me,” Jiggetts said. “I would not have been able to afford to put myself through school to make myself more attractive to the workforce.”

Personal tragedy threatened to derail Jiggetts efforts to build a better future. Shortly after she began classes, her younger son was sent home with the H1N1 virus, which meant she had to stay home, too. And just as he was getting better, her oldest son died.

Somehow, Jiggetts managed to do well in all her classes. “Sometimes my papers had dried tear stains on them, but I got them done,” Jiggetts. “I was determined not to lose this opportunity. I know in my heart that when I finish this certificate I will get a job and not just any old job.”

Jiggetts’ certificate will qualify her for positions such as medical insurance coding specialist, medical insurance specialist, billing and posting clerk in a physician’s office, outpatient clinic, medical laboratory, insurance company, skilled nursing facility or independent billing agency.

At least one fellow student, Tanya Howard, 38, has already found a job. Howard, who lost both legs to complications from diabetes, is receiving a Social and Human Services Assistant Certificate, and has been hired as a part-time counseling assistant at Liberty Resources Inc., an organization that helps the disabled re-integrate into society. The North Philadelphia resident had been working at the agency as an unpaid volunteer.

Most Kick Off Your Career participants are in their 30s, 40s or 50s and many had no previous college experience. After losing their jobs in the midst of a devastating recession, they were in no position to pay college tuition or to enroll in a long-term degree program.

“This initiative provides an alternative pathway to skills these students need to start a new career and look for better job opportunities,” said Judi Greif, manager of the Kick Off Your Career Program at the College. “Students entering these programs can be job ready in two to three semesters depending on the program and the number of classes they complete per semester.”

The balance of the students in the program will finish their studies by May 2011, Greif said. If they want to continue their education on a full- or part-time basis, the credits accumulated while earning their proficiency certificate can be used towards an associate degree in a related field, she said.