Richard Whelchel, automotive student, shares his experience at the Vocational Training Center and his excitement to have a job at Honda. (Courtesy Photo)

By AFRO Staff

The Herbert J. Hoelter Vocational Training Center (VTC), located in Little Italy, celebrated its most recent cohort of students with a graduation ceremony on Sept.10. The cohort, made up of returning citizens, homeless veterans and opportunity youth, ages 18-25, had just completed a 15-week training program. The students were able to choose one of five vocations including HVAC, automotive, CDL-Class B, drones and culinary arts to earn an industry certification needed to work in that specific field. 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the VTC was still able to train students using a hybrid of virtual, small group and in-person sessions for hands-on training. VTC was able to provide students with digital services and data throughout the length of the program.

The graduation ceremonies featured student testimonials and remarks from USDA Deputy Undersecretary Brandon Lipps, Daiquiri Anderson, director of Workforce Development for the Department of Human Services, and included testimonies from various students. Below are two of the testimonials from Richard Whelchel and Juan Jones: 

“I learned the basics of my career. I learned how to do oil changes and brakes, just the basics to get me started in furthering my career. To be honest, I like cars and I always pay people to work on cars , so I wanted to try it as a career. I never did auto mechanics so it was something new for me. I want to open up my own automotive shop – that’s my goal so I can give back what gave to me.” – Richard Whelchel, auto vocational graduate. 

This was definitely an experience in itself. When I first came, I didn’t know anything about the drone business, except for the potential money I could make if I were to be successful in that field. That’s what really motivated me to start the class, but when I got into the class I found out other things that I never knew. I begin to learn about aerospace, flying a plane and a bunch of other things I never thought I would pick up. It introduced me to different opportunities within the career itself. 

My instructor always stressed the importance of showing up for class, he’d say ‘Just come. Even if you don’t feel like it, just keep coming.’ He would always stress the fact that we are doing this to eventually go into business for our own, not just to get a job working for someone else. That is one thing that just stuck with me throughout the whole class, and that’s why I have my own company now. Through the drone and photography business, you help people see things differently and give a different perspective of things. I’ve always been big on photography as a kid and in high school when I was in the ROTC. The drone goes hand in hand with the photography just on a different level because I’m flying and not just on the ground, so it gives a different aspect of things. 

gave me some of the tools to help me communicate with people the right way, use certain terminology and present myself in a certain way. I applied that as much as I could when I was still in class so that when I graduated I would have my own company and I wouldn’t need a middle man to help me because I could do things myself.” – Juan Jones, drone vocational graduate. 

The VTC is a program of NCIA, a 43-year old Baltimore-based non-profit that provides alternative education and workforce training for youth and adults with intellectual and emotional disabilities and those involved in the criminal justice system. To date, the VTC has served more than 1000 individuals including 500 returning citizens and 250 veterans. They boast a 75 percent job placement rate with an average wage of $18.15/hour.