Back-to-Work grant brought woman a new career

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 19, 2013

CONCORD — Brandi Hilliard was becoming really worried — she had been unemployed for over a year and her unemployment benefits would be exhausted in two weeks. That’s when she heard about the NC Back-to-Work program at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.
Last year, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College received a $301,539 grant from the North Carolina Department of Commerce in support of the NC Back-to-Work initiative. The program’s focus was providing job training and retraining to long-term unemployed citizens of North Carolina.
“After a year of unemployment, I am thrilled to be working again! Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s Continuing Education welding program has been a wonderful educational experience,” said Hilliard, 29. “The NC Back-to-Work grant was a great opportunity for me and made this all possible.”
As part of the NC Back-to-Work grant, Rowan-Cabarrus offered an eight-month welding certification training program.
“I’d heard about the great job opportunities and the potential for high earnings in welding. I was definitely interested in trying my hand at it,” said Hilliard.
Hilliard enrolled in the three-day per week continuing education class that started last October at Mechanical Trades Carolina, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s training partner.
“Brandi quickly amazed her instructor and classmates with her natural welding abilities,” said John Sciadini, training director for Mechanical Trades Carolina.
Hilliard’s registration fee and welding tools were covered under the North Carolina Back-to-Work program. Hilliard diligently worked to learn as much as she could in the next eight months. She took advantage of every opportunity to test for American Welding Society certifications and graduated from the welding training program with a total of seven different certifications.
Hilliard recently became an official member of the Local 421 Plumbers & Pipefitters Union, and her training and certifications qualified her as a fifth-year apprentice of the N.C. Department of Labor apprenticeship program.
This summer, Brandi began working in Charleston, S.C., as a welder earning journeyman wages ($34 per hour). This prestigious, yet confidential job, also provides Hilliard with benefits and the opportunity to earn plenty of overtime pay.
“Honestly, I love it. I’m surprised how much I’ve loved welding!” said Hilliard. “If I could tell everyone one thing, I would tell them that they can do it. They have no idea how successful you can be — I sure didn’t. It still makes my head spin!”
Individuals who received unemployment benefits for more than 26 weeks, as certified by the N.C. Department of Commerce, or individuals who exhausted their unemployment benefits qualified for the NC Back-to-Work program. Program coverage included student support and coaching as well as targeted financial assistance, including tuition, registration fees, books and certification costs.
“Our goal was to help these individuals obtain marketable credentials which we hope will lead to sustainable employment and new careers,” said Jeanie Moore, vice president of Advancement and Continuing Education for Rowan-Cabarrus.
For more information about Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, please visit or call 704-216-RCCC (7222).