R3 Center in Kannapolis has helped thousands since 2007 opening
By Sarah Campbell
KANNAPOLIS — Bruce Potts was unemployed for 13 months after being laid off from Freightliner in May 2009.
That gave him just enough time to reinvent himself using Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s R3 Center.
Losing his job didn’t come as a surprise. Potts saw the third shift wiped out in 2008 and started hearing announcements that more layoffs were on the way.
“The truck market is typically feast or famine — it’s up and down,” he said. “Anyone who is familiar with the Cleveland plant knows there have been numerous hiring binges and layoffs over the years.”
Potts said he saw the “writing on the wall” and decided to go back to Rowan-Cabarrus for mechanical engineering technology.
He started taking classes part time in the summer of 2008 and ramped up to a full schedule during the fall while still working full time.
“During the next year, the economy graciously afforded me time to focus on my studies,” he said. “And I did just that.”
During the period of unemployment, Potts also hit up the college’s R3 Center.
The career development center’s three R’s stand for refocus, retrain and reemploy.
“I was in the mindset that I was going to take advantage of whatever I could, so I started taking some of the workshops,” he said.
Potts said a workshop titled “Stand Out from the Competition” helped the most.
“The whole message of that workshop really changed my mindset and really set the tone for me,” he said. “I realized I had to do everything I could to get noticed, I had to do anything I could to gain a competitive edge over what is still largely an employers market.
“There are so many people out of work that it’s fiercely competitive.”
Potts also took advantage of the center’s resumé clinic and the “Looking for Work at 50+” workshop.
“They are very welcoming and knowledgeable about the job market,” he said. “Take advantage of what’s there because it will help you, it will pay off.”
Potts uses a cake analogy to describe his experience at the R3 Center.
“The raw cake itself was like my experience,” he said. “I had plenty of cake. I had about 15 years of experience at Freightliner and about 35 years total.”
When he received his degree in May 2010, Potts said that added icing to the cake.
“The courses I took at the R3 Center were the decadent toppings,” he said. “It really finished off the package and helped me.
“I knew I had to reinvent myself both in person and on paper and I learned how to do that at the R3 Center.”
Potts got called back to the maintenance department of Freightliner in 2010. Last July, he landed an entry-level manufacturing engineering position at the plant’s corporate level.
“My experience played a key role since it was an internal job posting, but I have no doubt the mindset that I had to be competitive and do everything I could was an important factor,” he said.
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More than 9,000 individuals have received assistance from the R3 Center since it opened in 2007.
Keri Allman, the center director, said about 7,000 of those people have come to the Kannapolis location, while the remaining 2,000 were assisted on site at plants like Phillip Morris.
“The design of the R3 Center is to help unemployed and underemployed individuals,” she said. ‘But really it can include anybody who is open and ready for a career change.”
Allman said the first step for newcomers is attending a “New Client Launch” workshop so the center’s career coaches can determine whether an individual is in “desperate need of finding work” or “needs work, but is interested in exploring career options.” She said that’s where the refocus piece comes into play.”
“That kind of helps set the path for what’s next,” she said. “A lot of people are left with questions like, ‘What am I going to do?’ and ‘What’s left for me?’ So if we can find that focus, we can help make the ‘retrain’ and ‘re-employ’ a reality.”
Clients then begin perfecting their resumés through the center’s “Resumé Clinic” workshop. Those who need substantial help can set up a time to meet with a career coach one on one.
“We know that resumés are the No. 1 job-seeking tools that keep people from interviews,” Allman said.
The center offers a number of free workshops to help people sharpen their interviewing skills, revamp their cover letters, expand their networking capabilities and stand out among the competition.
Career coaches lead the workshops, which typically last about an hour and a half.
“We tell people to allot two hours for one of our workshops,” Allman said.
Allman said career coaches come from a variety of backgrounds including the private sector, public school system, the commerce department and veteran affairs.
“The skill sets that we bring in have a very intentional focus on work force development in addition to academics,” she said.
Since the center opened, more than 800 workshops have been offered. A monthly calendar is available on the center’s website at www.rccc. edu/r3 .
Allman said R3 career coaches also conduct workshops and activities at the JobLink center in Rowan County.
“We know people who live in Salisbury or Spencer may have some transportation issues getting to Kannapolis, so we come to them,” she said.
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As the R3 Center celebrates its five year anniversary this month, Allman said she’s looking to the future.
“One of the things that we’re committed to is keeping a workshop menu that is always proactive,” she said. “For example, as we have gone along we’ve learned that credit reports in a work search are an issue and social media has taken on a whole new presence since 2007.
“Our goal is to always be growing and never be stale so we’re dealing with the topics of the day.”
Allman said she hopes to see a “continued emphasis on assistance to the displaced worker.”
“I want to see continued partnerships with community partners like the Division of Employment Security and the Centralina Workforce Development Board,” she said. “We want to know what employers need because none of us are successful until people are working.”
The center will host a meet and greet at 10 a.m. Feb. 28 for people to come in and meet the staff and ask questions.
“We are very tickled to be reaching the five-year mark,” Allman said. “When we started this project in 2007 we weren’t exactly sure how long it would last or what it would become, and we’re very proud of what the R3 Center has become.”
Allman said the center was the “best kept secret in town” for a while, but word has gotten out that free services are available to help with career development.
“It’s not hard to find somebody that’s in transition, looking for work,” she said. “But it is hard to know where to go. That’s where we come in.”
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Allman said the R3 Center is looking to expand the knowledge it’s gathered through its Re-Employment Bridge Institute
“We know what R3 has done has been a model for how to work with dislocated workers and the Department of Commerce,” she said. “We wanted to spread the word and teach other areas how to do that.”
The institute is a partnership between Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and the Centralina Workforce Development Board.
“It’s a big story to talk about how we went from Pillowtex, which is where the concept of the R3 Center is really rooted, to having career services available where they are right now,” Allman said. “We learned, we grew, we created a vision.”
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.
The R3 Center plans these workshops:
9 a.m. Friday: It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who You Meet
9 a.m. Saturday: Resumé Clinic
9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday: New Client Launch
2 and 6 p.m. Tuesday: New Client Launch
9 a.m. Wednesday: Identifying Your Career Options
11 a.m. Feb. 16: Resumé Clinic
9 a.m. Feb. 17: New Client Launch
9 a.m. Feb. 20: Stand Out from the Competition
6 p.m. Feb. 20: Identifying Your Career Options
9 a.m. Feb. 21: Resumé Clinic
11 a.m. Feb. 21: Letter Writing for the Job Seeker
6 p.m. Feb. 21 Looking for Work at 50+
9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Feb. 22: Interview Techniques
9 a.m. Feb. 23: Looking for Work with a Criminal Record
9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Feb. 27: New Client Launch
9 a.m. Feb. 28: Meet the Employers
11 a.m. Feb. 29: New Client Launch
2 p.m Feb. 29: Identifying Your Career Options