SPECIAL REPORT: Training qualified workers through a pandemic

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PANAMA CITY Fla. (WMBB) –As we’ve previously reported, COVID-19 and Hurricane Michael have impacted local grade school students, but what about adult learners like college and technical school students looking to get into the workforce?

At Haney Technical Center, students have faced similar challenges especially when hands-on learning has had to move partially online.

“It’s very difficult to learn computers when you can’t put your hands on them and you can’t physically touch the motherboards and all the parts that go with them,” said Haney student Jenni Wilson, who is enrolled in the Computer Systems and Information Technology program.

However, for Wilson, learning to build computers has been the easier part of the last two years,

as she works full-time, raises her young son and continues to fix her home after it was majorly damaged in Hurricane Michael.

“It’s challenging but I make it work,” Wilson said. “I will get done with it, I will finish.”

With one challenge after another, COVID-19 added a new dilemma. Like other schools across the country, Haney Technical moved online. Wilson is one of hundreds of students handling the new changes; when earning hands-on industry certifications like building and understanding computer systems, it’s a tough situation.

“We really had to make some tough decisions about how we could move forward with learning and protecting the safety of our students and staff,” said Haney’s Chief Community Relations Officer, Alex Murphy. 

She said with class-size limitations and multiple schedules in play, the school made the decision to move to a full-time hybrid model, part online and part in-class learning. However, this wasn’t without sacrifices.

“We’ve had to turn some students away which we hate to do,” Murphy said.

For those who remain, the goal has stayed the same.

“We can’t dilute the learning styles that we have here,” Murphy said. “Our students have a certain level of expectation when they go to work.”

This, to ensure students are qualified for the jobs they’re being primed for. Wilson said through it all, she feels confident to work in her industry. 

“It’s a big field and they’re hiring as many people as they can,” she said. “We really have no excuse to not advance in the field if we just stick to it and get any of the certifications.”

Haney administrators said that through the bumps in the road, students are learning more than technical skills that will help them succeed.

“Having that flexibility and resiliency is something that they have learned in the last two years that maybe they didn’t have that life skill prior to the hurricane and COVID,” Murphy said. 

Wilson said, like many others, she’s rolling with the punches.

“This is where we’re at, til we can get through it this is what we’re dealing with” she said. “Be happy, move on.”

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