As a student at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) and a participant in Charlotte Works’ NextGen program at CPCC, Tanisha Harris has discovered her career path despite life’s challenges knocking her down.
Harris dropped out of school in seventh grade and started down a path of destruction that included drug use and time spent in a homeless shelter. Life seemed bleak for Harris, but she said being introduced to NextGen (formerly the Work and Learn program at CPCC) in 2016 was a life saver. It was the help of CPCC employees like Academic and Career Advisor Iris Grady and Director of Career Development Sheena Ashley that got her on the right track.
“I think being in the homeless shelter is what really motivated me the most to want to finish everything. It gave me a sense of ‘I can do this with or without anybody.’ That’s what made me feel like I could really do it,’” Harris explained. “[NextGen] got me into my welding classes and Ms. Sheena helped get me the gear I needed for that program. Ms. Grady really pushed me to get my GED [certificate].”
NextGen is a Charlotte Works initiative that helps young adults (ages 16 to 24) facing employment barriers to gain work experience, enter the job market, complete educational goals and prepare for a career. CPCC and ResCare Workforce Services provides the program for out-of-school participants; MeckEd is the program provider serving 11th and 12th graders at Garinger, Harding, Independence and Vance high schools.
Before entering the program, Harris wasn’t sure what career path would work for her. She knew that her previous felony charges would make it hard to find a job, but with research into various career pathways and perseverance, she was able to determine which road to take.
“When I was researching the [Career] Pathways programs and saw the list of careers, I felt like when I researched each career, the welding program was a good program because it’s growing a certain percentage every year. I feel like things are always going to be built, so it would be better for me to choose welding now,” she said.
Harris was right. According to labor market database JobsEQ, there’s a positive career outlook for welders as their expertise and skills will be necessary to address aging infrastructure issues. The need for welders in the Charlotte area is expected to grow by six percent over the next five years totaling approximately 200 welders to fill the demand.
Starting the welding program came with its challenges. Aside from being a male-dominated field, there was just a lot to learn. She found print reading to be difficult, but she reached out to her advisor and was able to get a tutor to help pass her courses.
“I thought I was going to fail,” Harris recalled.
She went to tutoring every Wednesday for print-reading skills and received a ‘B’ in her class.
Welding isn’t the only skill Harris is learning in the program. She’s also gaining transferable knowledge through her job as front-line office support for career advisors in CPCC’s Education Center. April Root, a College and Career Readiness Department director, said it was important for Harris to have a variety of skills to add to her resume.
“We gave her the access she needed to support students and the scheduling access she needed to support advisors. She learned how to interact and communicate with advisors, as well as helping students. She took that initiative and that’s where her technical skills came in. I think what she has learned professionally, is definitely an embrace on technology, communication, and accessing systems she had never accessed before, which also helps her,” Root explained.
Harris’ advisor Iris Grady added that it was important to find a career pathway where Harris could incorporate both welding and administrative work.
“I told her that you take your welding skills to the company, you say you know how to weld, but also know the administrative side too. You can make these things work for you. It seems to have made her more excited,” Grady said.
Excitement about the future and not wanting to go backwards is what keeps pushing Harris to complete her goals.
“I can say that nothing will stop me from getting my certificate,” she declared.
She recommends the NextGen program to others but issued a word of advice:
“As long as [students] stay committed to whatever dream they have and what they want to do, I can tell them that the [NextGen] program will be behind them 100 percent of the way. Any situation that they have, there’s nothing that the program can’t help a student get past.”