Western Nevada College student takes advantage of second chance
Jonathan Shoff knows the value of a good job and a good education.
Raised in Southern California primarily by his two grandfathers, one retired Navy and the other a pastor, Shoff moved to Carson City in 2000 to live with his uncle, and get back on the right track. Early brushes with the law for being, as he said, “young and dumb,” didn’t deter him from seeking a better life.
“My uncle knew a guy who had an auto body shop,” Shoff said. “I worked there for 10 years until the recession hit and they had to let people go.”
He found a job in another auto body shop, which closed in 2011.
“I’m not a person who wants to live on unemployment,” he said. “I spent three months running here and there trying to find work. My grandfather was very inspirational to me, and it was embarrassing to me to not have a job.”
His brother-in-law, a project manager for a global manufacturing firm located in the Carson Valley, suggested Shoff apply for a temp job at the plant where he worked. He was hired in a temporary capacity, then after nine months, was brought in as a full time manufacturing associate in Oct. 2012.
A few months later, Shoff’s employer partnered with Western Nevada College’s Applied Industrial Technology program, presenting a workshop on the benefits of earning an Associate of Applied Science degree through the college while working at the plant.
“I went to that meeting and knew if I wanted to keep moving forward in my career, I needed to get that degree,” he said.
Through a mix of traditional and online classes, including some accelerated courses where an entire semester-long class is taught in a condensed 4-week session, Shoff is two and a half years into earning his degree, and he figures he has another year and a half to go.
“The program is fantastic, and Emily [Howarth, professor and lead for the AIT program] is amazing,” he said. “She is very responsive but she wants you to figure it out, to work from one side through the other to see what you can do.”
According to Howarth, WNC, in partnership with the local industrial community, has the opportunity to create the workforce that is wanted and needed in northern Nevada, which she said remains her primary objective with the AIT program.
“We have a college experience that will engage students and keep them connected to the career opportunities that become available to them when they finish the program,” she said. “We have great relationships with local firms like Jonathan’s employer who have told us again and again they want an educated workforce, and they will support us as we bring them through – we just need the students to step forward and distinguish themselves, as Jonathan has.”
But, she said, more work needs to be done between the business community and the college to connect AIT students and employers who need trained workers.
“WNC has listened to the needs of the local business community, and has responded. The program also needs to show people who work in the field the careers they can choose from, the equipment that will be encountered, the systems they will work with, and help them to develop the confidence as well as the knowledge and skill to contribute to Nevada’s manufacturing strengths.”
She said with the help of donations from the industrial community of real-world equipment as businesses upgrade and replace their machinery, she envisions an industrial technology training center focused on automation, monitoring and controls.
“WNC would be one of a few colleges in the country offering in-depth technical training in automation and controls resulting in a degree,” she said. “Lots of programs teach basic skills, some teach advanced skills, but we could build on our success so far to develop the technical depth within the college experience.”
And getting students into positions in area companies during their schooling would benefit both student and employer by giving the student real-time, hands-on learning, while the employer can grow the employee through corporate-led training and methodologies at the same time, she said. She hopes to build a “manufacturing mentorship” program, where local field experts provide workshops to students to help them understand what career options are really like, and provide opportunities to bring prospective employers and employees together, earlier in the process.
In the meantime, Shoff is looking forward to becoming a technician, the next step in his career path upon graduation. The sole breadwinner for his family – Shoff has a two year old son and a daughter on the way – taking the next step could mean as much as a 10 percent pay increase in the beginning, with higher pay coming as he advances with time, experience and more classes, some of which will be taught by his employer.
“I can see the finish line,” he said. “And it feels good.”
Shoff said he would have never imagined himself working for a large global manufacturing company and going to school.
“This is America, the land of second chances,” he said. “It’s what I love about it. If you don’t try, you don’t know what might happen.”