Being in the business as long as Seattle Jobs Initiative has means having a far greater number of success stories than we can possibly share. These stories — from those of individuals SJI served more than a decade ago who have now advanced in their careers well beyond what they once thought possible, to those of individuals who have succeeded through sheer determination despite facing major obstacles — get to the heart of why SJI exists to do what we do.
These stories — along with word-of-mouth — are the best form of advertising we have to reach individuals who are looking for an opportunity to get the skills and education they need to secure a well-paying job and improve their lives. Read their stories:
Before starting SJI’s Office Occupations program in Fall 2003, Dana wanted to change her life for the positive. She was balancing working for herself as a house cleaner and working for another house cleaning service – all while raising a young child. Dana was making money, but not enough to have the kind of lifestyle she wanted for herself and her daughter. She needed a job where there was the opportunity for advancement and was interested in working in an office environment, and she realized she was at a point where she needed to acquire a strong foundation of office and computer skills. Through her case manager at her community-based organization, Dana found SJI.
Dana worked hard to build skills and overcome day-to-day challenges of being a mom in school. She had never worked in an office environment before, so she had to study hard – but she had the help of her instructors throughout the program. She also honed her performance skills, gaining greater levels of accountability and punctuality. During the second quarter of the program, Dana was matched with an internship at RGA Environmental, a consulting firm in Seattle and an SJI Employer Partner. She excelled in her internship position, and following the SJI program, RGA hired Dana for a full-time position.
Now, Dana’s been with RGA for over seven years, and has advanced in her career to the position of Administrative Assistant/Insurance Coordinator. The skills she learned through the SJI program continue to be a foundation and have provided a sense of self-esteem that allow Dana to really shine as an employee.
“I love the group of people that I work with. I love that I am always learning new things. I love being the first point of contact for RGA, and I have a great boss,” said Dana. She also continues to progress, building on her successes so far. “I am always learning new skills on the job, and soon, I’ll be going back to school – the benefit of employer-provided tuition assistance – to complete my AA degree!”
When Dede started the SJI Medical Business Information Technology (MBIT) program back in January 2012, she was searching for a way to move her life and the life of her family forward. A single mother of three boys, she often struggled to make ends meet with her job in the fast food industry. When she heard about the SJI program for medical office skills training, it appealed to her for multiple reasons.
“I have always admired people in the medical profession. It takes a special kind of person – someone who is nurturing, but also hard working. I was also attracted to the fact that the field can offer great benefits, especially health benefits – and that was something I was desperate to provide for my children, knowing that I could afford to take care of them. It’s a respected field, and I was so yearning for some respect and to feel like I had a real career. And, it’s a growing field even in this economy. The research shows that training in healthcare is a nice safe choice because we’re always going to need medical staff, and there will be more room for jobs.”
Once Dede began the program, she found it to be a place where the students supported each other in the day-to-day challenges of school. She also was able to rely on her community-based organization case manager and the SJI staff to help her make important connections to a variety of supports, particularly childcare and scheduling support. The apprehension Dede felt about her limited experience using computers faded throughout the program, with the thorough instruction and follow-up she received from South Seattle Community College instructors, SJI program managers and CBO case managers.
“Any problem or need that I had was met. I was concerned about daycare, and I was helped with that. I was concerned with scheduling and other stuff, and they were like, ‘We’ve got you. Give us what you’ve got, and we’ll help you get there.’ By the end of the program, I was pretty comfortable with the computer, and now I can even show my children something! Anytime I had a concern or was kind of getting behind – there was always someone there to help me succeed.”
With a lot of hard work, dedication, and positive attitude, Dede made it to the internship phase of the MBIT program. She was the first student in the SJI program to participate in an internship at Children’s Hospital.
“My internship was an amazing experience – I am the first person to ever intern at Children’s Hospital through the MBIT program as a coder. Children’s is just such a wonderful organization – they love what they do, they love the community, and they love children. I am so happy – I wake up, and I’m excited to go to work. And I’ve now paved the way for someone else, with future opportunities for other student internships.”
For anyone out there who is unsure if the SJI program can offer them an opportunity to change their lives, Dede had this to offer:
“Education – you just can’t take it away. I might not always have had clothes, food, a place to live – but I will always have my education. The pride I felt from graduating from this program is just the beginning, I have to say, if anyone is wavering, if they are at that point in their life where they are just not sure of themselves, or if it’s worth it – I know what that feels like. But you CAN be anything you want. I come from a family with no education, I didn’t graduate high school and got my GED instead, I felt I barely could do so many things before this and had no faith in myself. And now I realize, ‘I’m liberated and the sky is the limit. It’s just a matter of picking where I want to go, now that’s the hardest part.’ Just knowing that is amazing, and so I hope that anyone else who is in that same position as I was would give this program a shot – it’s worth it. It can be a life-changer.”
There is a family connection in Ellen’s success story. In Fall 2009, Ellen began the SJI Office Occupations program, following in the footsteps of two of her cousins, who were both graduates of SJI’s Welding program, and her mom, who was a recent graduate of the Office program. She had watched her family members learn new skills and find success and employment through SJI, and it motivated her to think about the program, too.
At that time, Ellen had recently spent several years working at home raising her three young children; prior to that, she had worked for five years as a paralegal. Being out of an administrative position for some time required that she brush up and enhance her skill set to compete for a good job with a family-supporting wage and benefits.
“I knew I wanted to make a move out of the paralegal field, but after three years out of the workforce, I knew my computer skills needed to be updated – so I wanted a program that would help me build those skills back up,” Ellen said.
“And the skills I gained in the SJI program were the right skills — what I learned in class I use on-the-job. A real key was that the SJI instructors and staff really taught us about responsibility, being accountable and managing our time well. Those things are so important, and SJI really helped me to get on track with that area.”
The Office Occupations program is a rigorous one — and Ellen was determined to meet all the challenges of the program. She completed her internship with Swedish Medical Center, where she gained skills in a dynamic internship role that rotated through several positions, giving her a broad array of on-the-job experience. Directly following completion of her internship, Swedish hired Ellen on full-time as a patient services representative in Spring 2010. Last November, Ellen earned a promotion to a senior patient services representative position in the Neurosciences department, where she truly enjoys her work, her work environment and being the first point-of-contact for patients with brain and spine conditions.
“The people that work at Swedish are just great — it’s probably what I like best about my job. There’s so much opportunity to grow here — as employees we have the opportunity to shadow different positions within the organization, and we can even sometimes watch surgeries and learn more about the healthcare field.”
Ellen plans to continue her education and earn a degree in public health. She’ll return to South Seattle Community College for her first two years, and then transfer to a four-year college to complete her degree. She had a good experience attending SSCC through the SJI program, finding the campus and staff to be supportive and knowledgeable.
“My plan is to go back to school to get my degree in public health, and work towards a management position in a healthcare clinic, like clinic administrator or director. I realized I really enjoy administrative work, so that – combined with working in the healthcare field where I can interact and help people — is a great career fit for me. I’ll be able to take advantage of my employer’s tuition assistance program to help me go back to college, get more education, and be able to grow into more opportunities in the field.”
Ellen’s co-worker comments highlight the beneficial role Ellen’s positive attitude plays on-the-job: “I have been working with Ellen for almost a year and it has been great! Ellen works very hard everyday and carries herself with great poise while managing to maintain patience for even the most frustrating or difficult situations. What I admire the most about Ellen is her compassion for others and how she genuinely cares for those around her.”
Ellen’s story also showcases the positive role the SJI program can play in helping our city’s residents make the important connections between skills, employer partners, good jobs, continued college attainment, and, simply: opportunity. She’s encouraging for anyone who might be considering the program:
“If you’re out there thinking about the program, even if you’re a little off-track in some areas of your life: SJI will help you to get back on track in such a supportive way. As long as you’re willing to take the support and bring the determination, I don’t see how anyone could not be successful at the program. SJI covers the hard skills, but also the soft skills — and they are in contact with the employers, so we’re getting the right preparation and connections. I would — and do — definitely encourage others to consider the program. It really does open doors.”
An Interview with an SJI Welding Graduate: Jon
“My name is Jonathan, and SJI has given me a second chance and new future for me and my family.”
When did you start the SJI program, and tell us a little bit about what you were doing before you started the program?
Before starting the program, I had a lot of construction experience, but that was also before I had been into a lot of trouble. I started back in January, but then ended up having to put off my training until March.
What motivated you to be interested in job skills training?
I’ve always been good with my hands, and I knew that if I just put myself to something, I could probably do really good at it – not to mention that I’ve got three kids, and I want them to have a good future. I know there are good jobs and good money out there in welding.
Describe your experiences in the program.
My experience in the program has been great. I knew I could be good at this work if I applied myself, but I didn’t know exactly how good I could be. It’s been working for me – the motivation and the determination to get things done has really helped me out – not only with what I see as my future, but also with my self-esteem and with my life in general, too.
Can you talk a little more about the aspect of teamwork in the program?
Personally, I help tutor students with their math, so they can keep their math grades up. There are a lot of students here, and some of them are a little ahead, and they’ll take the time to show another person who’s a little behind how to get the hang of it. Whether it be the bookwork, the shop work, the math – we’re all here with the ultimate goal to get this done, and we all come from different walks of life. A lot of the people here have somewhat of a criminal history or background, and none of us want to go back to that, nor do we want to see each other go back to that either. They might just be my classmates, but I kind of see us as a team completely, because we’re a class, and we’re in this with the same goals – to get the program done, to be safe, to help each other out, and accomplish our goals.
What was the most valuable skill you got in the program?
The most valuable skill was I’d say were all the performance skills – showing up on time, being accountable, paying attention – as well as the welding skills. And just knowing now how to read a puddle, set up my machine, and where I’m at now is a skill that I’ll have forever. I love coming to school for that it’s been an awesome program.
Is there anything else you’d like to add or share?
This is a great program and thank you for having the program for us to work with. Like I said, all of us come from different walks of life, and they don’t have these programs everywhere. They really don’t. And if they did, it wouldn’t be with the kind of assistance we get here. It’s awesome that you give us an opportunity to make something of our lives. A lot of us had lost hope in our lives and for getting a second chance, and you guys have given us a second chance, and I really appreciate it.
We were saddened to learn that Michael was involved in a car accident and passed away. Michael was one of our finest graduates and was admired for his dedication, perseverance and talent.
He was a graduate of the welding cohort and had just graduated with his 2-year welding degree in June 2013. He was also a graduate of the Lake Washington Human Resources Association (LWHRA) Coaching Program and planned to stay involved as a coach-in-training. He was on track to go to work for one of two interested shipbuilding companies as soon as he took and passed his last two WABO certifications.
Michael was a devoted son and a single dad of a teenage son who is on a college-track, which was one of Michael’s greatest sources of pride and motivation for continuing his education via SJI. His enthusiasm, focus, and willingness to contribute to those around him inspired many, and he is greatly missed.
Our deepest condolences are with Michael’s family.
Michael’s Success Story as well as a video he was featured in, originally published in July 2012, are below.
Before Michael started the SJI Welding program back in June 2011, he was at a crossroads – did he want to just have a day-to-day job, or did he want to begin a career? Up until that point, Michael had been working for a temp agency, never sure what opportunities each day would bring, but knowing for sure that he’d be making minimum wage if he did work. Deep down, Michael knew he could do better. So he enrolled in the SJI Welding cohort.
Michael did well in the program and earned his certificate of completion in September 2011 – but his story doesn’t end there. He decided to continue on with his education at South Seattle Community College – earning additional welding certifications as well as credits toward his 2-year degree.
“I was good at what I used to do, but I’m better at what I could be, and I wasn’t reaching that potential. SJI helped me see how I could reach that potential. Not only that, I’m 42 years old – and going back to school. Some people don’t think it’s a good thing to do, but it is, and SJI helped me to realize that.”
Continuing his education has given Michael a great amount of self-pride – for his own life and also for his teenage son. Since they’ve both been in school during this time, math homework has even taken on a bit of a competitive edge, with them both trying to see who can get the best grades on their assignments! For Michael, pursuing this career offers a chance to really put a positive mark on the future – for his son and for the larger community.
“I want to make a difference. I have a 14-year-old son, and he’s going to be the future, so in some sort of way, shape or form, I want to touch the future, whatever I’m doing. As a welder, I can build things to be safe for people to make sure highways are safe, bridges are safe, for the community.”
Whether it be making the community safer through top-notch welding skills or providing a good life and a good example for his son, Michael’s story showcases how the SJI program can allow individuals to reach their greater potential through skills training, continuing education – and at the end of the day, by empowering people to achieve their goals and take steps to better their lives. Michael encourages others to take advantage of this opportunity as well:
“If I could sum up the program in one word, it would be confidence in yourself. It would be self-reliance. There are so many words to describe the SJI program, I really don’t just have one, but if I was you, I’d come and find out, so you could make your own words about the SJI program, because I believe in it that much.”
Before Roland found the SJI Welding program, he was looking for a good job that could provide him with, as he says so genuinely, “a vocational voice and financial freedom”. Up until that point, he had been working in shorter-term welding jobs here and there, but he found it was becoming harder and harder to pick up jobs without official certifications, training or even a resume.
“It used to be I could just walk into a shop and do a welding test, show them my skills, do a little blueprint test, and grab the job. And it was easy back in the day to not have a resume or a cover letter and all the technical degrees or certifications that you need now. That’s what motivated me, because I knew I wasn’t going to get too far, and it was getting really hard to get those welding jobs, especially in the Recession, and to be paid the pay rate that I wanted to make.”
A friend recommended the SJI program, and Roland started in January 2012. The initial feelings of anxiety and nervousness about being back in school fell away as he experienced the support and encouragement of the instructors, career navigators, SJI staffers, and other students in his cohort.
“SJI is offering you so much more than just going out and getting a textbook. It’s teaching math, it’s teaching soft skills, life skills, work ethic, computer skills and you’re learning quite a bit. You get counseling, career navigator, and your transportation is taken care of. I encourage people to not just give it a shot, but fully involve yourself in this program.”
When we first spoke with Roland and interviewed him for student success story video, he was a couple days away from earning his first welding certification and completing two full quarters of job skills training. Today, Roland has successfully completed four quarters of welding skills training and is working towards his 2-year certificate at South Seattle Community College.
Before he started the SJI Medical Business Information Technology (MBIT) program in Spring 2012, Wendell was working as an on-call medical interpreter in local clinics, helping patients communicate medical staff and physicians. But the work was part-time and sporadic — and Wendell knew he needed education and job skills to be able to transition into a full-time career.
Wendell’s experience with the SJI program has been one of meeting the challenges of being a college student, but also one of receiving support from his career navigator, South Seattle Community College instructors and SJI staff. He also has found a big source of support in his fellow classmates, especially in the day-to-day instruction, computer labs, and homework assignments.
“Well, with SJI, I think it’s like having a big brother. He’s there to push you, but he’s not going to leave you. He’s there to push you to your limits, but he’s not going to leave you. He will support you. Take this program, and it will be hard, but we’re going to do this together – that’s the sense and feeling I’ve got so far about this program. It’s like a big brother to me.”