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Workforce Wednesday: Nick Turpen taps Michigan Reconnect to resume his education, gain a new career

Jan. 19, 2022, GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- GRCC Workforce Training programs provide in-demand skills leading to rewarding careers. Each Wednesday we’ll meet students who are heading down an educational pathway and changing their lives by earning occupational certificates.

Nick Turpen had been working as a production lead in a local manufacturing company for nearly 12 years when he saw a story on the news about Michigan Reconnect. That got him to thinking - again.

In 2009, Nick thought about going back to school but there was no way financially that he could swing it.

“I couldn’t take two years off from work to get an associate’s degree while having a mortgage, and life expenses,” he said.

“I saw a story about Michigan Reconnect on the news so I looked into it. Once I found out that I qualified, I started thinking about programs. I figured a certificate program would be good for me and a great way to get my foot in the door with a company. I chose the Construction Electrical Job Training Program because electrical work is not going away and seems like a lucrative career path.”

Michigan Reconnect is a state financial aid program for Michiganders 25 or older without a college degree. This program provides eligible students with free in-district tuition access to pursue an associate degree or occupational certificate at their local community college.

Nick had no experience with electrical work other than getting zapped while attempting home repairs.

“My thought was kind of like, if it turns out that I don’t really like working in this field, at least I will have learned enough to work on my own repairs,” he said.

The GRCC Construction Electrical Job Training program provides the basic knowledge and skills required to become an electrician and be placed in an Electrical Apprenticeship program in just 18 weeks of training.

Students participate in job site, lab area, field trip and classroom settings. Learning is hands-on in all areas of electrical installation including employability skills, construction and electrical safety, hand and power tool safety, electrical math, electrical history, electrical theory, the National Electrical Code, electrical material identification, blue print reading, underground installations and residential/commercial wiring.

“I’m pretty good with hands-on learning and I’m mechanically inclined so the teaching style really works great for me. Classes are set up like a job so the transition to the schedule was easy,” he said.

“One of the challenging parts is just overcoming the fear of asking for help. I’m over that fear. Now I just ask the questions. That is how we learn. It’s much better to ask here rather than on the jobsite. It’s a safe environment to ask the question, make the mistakes and practice.”

In the next year, Nick hopes to be employed by a great electrical company, be enrolled in an apprenticeship program and working toward gaining his Journeyman’s card.

“Our instructor, Doug Wiersma, knows so many people in this field. To be able to have him as a resource to open those doors is incredibly valuable. He has already set me up with some of his connections so that I can work part-time until I complete the program. I just interviewed last week so we’ll see! It’s great to be able to ask Doug about companies that are hiring and if he thinks I am a good fit for that company. It really is about not just getting a job but getting the right job,” he said.

“Reconnect and GRCC came at just the right time for me. I feel like all the chips fell into place. This is going to make my life much more fulfilling.”

According to the Michigan Bureau of Labor Market Information and Strategic Initiatives, there will be 16 percent job growth annually in this field from 2012 to 2022. Average wage per hour is $23.78.

Additional information about the Michigan Reconnect program is available at grcc.edu/reconnect, by emailing reconnect@grcc.edu or by calling (616) 234-3366.

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