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Norwalk mayor spearheads employment program

Annie Zelm • Mar 12, 2011 at 1:08 PM

Tom Sommers' midlife crisis didn't come with a Ferrari -- it was more like a gaping hole.

When Norwalk Furniture eliminated the interior design job he'd worked for nearly 20 years, he knew he'd have to find something fast. His income had disappeared, but the bills kept coming. He tried a stint in retail sales, but it lasted less than a year.

"It was like being in a vacuum -- just nothingness," the 45-year-old said. "You don't know which way to go."

Going back to school for a new career was the answer for Sommers, and in a county where more than 13 percent of residents were unemployed as of January, he and others hope to send a message: It's never too late to start again.

Bolstered by his family and retraining funds for laid-off workers, Sommers began training as an EMT at EHOVE in June 2009. After earning his certification as a paramedic in September 2010, he was hired by LifeCare Ambulance in Lorain.

It's a job he loves and a stepping stone for the career he hopes to have as an emergency room nurse.

He'll speak Wednesday at HIRE Education, a program that aims to reach out to people who want to be retrained for a new career. Those who attend can be among the first to apply for an eight-week course where they'll learn about a variety of jobs in the Norwalk area and find out what skills they need to nab them.

Norwalk Mayor Sue Lesch is spearheading the program, partnering with EHOVE, Huron County Job and Family Services and a number of local companies.

"We know that we have a willing workforce, and we're known for our worth ethic, but where we fall short is the level of education," Lesch said. "This is an effort to raise the bar."

HIRE stands for Helping Individuals Reach Employment, and the program will help job-seekers connect with employers and educators as they plan their next move.

Those who apply for the eight-week program will sharpen basic skills such as interviewing and résumé-writing, but they'll go a step further by learning how to manage balance sheets or work at a computer.

The program can help them tap into government funds that may be available as they head back to school or into training.

After completing the course, they'll also be among the first to be considered by participating employers.

Thirty people will be accepted into the program this spring, but Lesch hopes to take more applications for a second round in the fall.

Ultimately, the goal is not only to strengthen the local workforce but also to improve overall productivity in the community, she said.

"We have to imagine a new economy and make the changes to make it work," she said. "A better-trained workforce, I think, is really going to make a difference."


WHAT: HIRE Education (Helping Individuals Reach Employment) program and fair

WHEN: 6-9 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Ernsthausen Performing Arts Center at Norwalk High School, 350 Shady Lane

INFO: Call Norwalk City Hall at 419-663-6700 or e-mail cityofnorwalk@accnorwalk.com.

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