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Free virtual job-skills training program to be expanded statewide

After 20 years in retail ended with a layoff from a Lancaster craft-supplies store, Shawn Gollatz felt it was time to reconsider his career path.

“I did a lot of soul searching,” said Gollatz, 40, of Millersville, before deciding to make a drastic change from retail to another industry that piqued his interest — information technology. Gollatz faced just one small problem. He didn’t have any credentials in IT.

“I have a passion for computers, infrastructure, systems and coding. But I had no idea how to get started and get my foot in the door. I’m not going to be able to apply for an IT position by saying, ‘Look at all the retail experience that I have,'” he recalled Monday.

So he sought advice from Lancaster County CareerLink, 1016 N. Charlotte St. CareerLink staff directed him to its SkillUp Lancaster program, which offers scores of free, online skill-training courses, available any time of day. Participants progress at their own pace. In 120 days, Gollatz earned three IT certifications.

In March 2020, Gollatz updated his resume (guided by another CareerLink course), then posted it on the job-search/employee-search website Indeed.com on a Tuesday. He got a job offer that Friday from Finance of America, which he accepted.

Eighteen months, two more SkillUp certifications and one promotion later, the Penn Manor High School graduate is a junior incident response engineer for the consumer lending firm.

Success stories like Gollatz’s encouraged the state Department of Labor & Industry to roll out the SkillUp program statewide, a move they announced Monday. The statewide service begins Saturday, Aug. 14.

“In researching potential partners to broaden online learning opportunities, (the Department of Labor & Industry) reached out to the Lancaster County Workforce Development Board for feedback about their experience with (SkillUp) and took their positive comments into consideration when making the selection,” said department press secretary Sarah DeSantis.

SkillUp offers training in accounting/finance, clerical, customer service, human resources, IT, marketing, Microsoft Office, project management, “soft” skills (such as communication, time management and professionalism) and other topics.

In announcing the rollout at a press conference at Lancaster County CareerLink, Sheila Ireland, the department’s deputy secretary of workforce development, said the rollout is timely, given the state’s above-average unemployment rate due to the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.

“With this shift in the economy, we are very much interested in providing a mechanism so that jobseekers can connect to the skills that they need,” Ireland said, noting that 17 other states offer the free online skills training.

SkillUp also provides an “incredible opportunity” for employers who want to improve the skills of their existing employees, said Cathy Rychalsky, executive director of the Lancaster County Workforce Development Board.

Joyce Hostetler, human resources manager for Greiner Industries in Mount Joy, which uses SkillUp for employee training, underscored Rychalsky’s point, saying SkillUp is “launching our training into the future.”

At Milagro House, which provides housing and education to women and children who otherwise would be homeless, SkillUp is used to teach the women “soft” skills needed to land life-sustaining jobs, said Natalie Ortiz, career and community navigator.

Lancaster County CareerLink has offered the SkillUp courses since 2011, Rychalsky said. They’re provided by the online training firm Metrix Learning, a division of New York Wired for Education LLC. Some 12,000 Lancaster County users have completed 41,000 courses in those 10 years, she said. For more information, job seekers and employers can visit Lancaster.skillupamerica.org.

The state is tapping federal funding to cover the $880,000 annual cost of providing the virtual training across Pennsylvania.

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