In each edition, Chamber Exchange: The Newspaper includes one question-and-answer-style interview with a Chamber member who’s really making a change in the community. This month, I sat down with Ruth Seward, the new coordinator of Worcester Night Life Continuing Education at Worcester Public Schools (WPS). Night Life provides lifelong learners opportunities to develop hands-on skills and knowledge for employment or just for the fun of it, all at an affordable price (and sometimes even discounted, depending on grants and funding for the class). Ms. Seward took over on February 1, 2021, when the coronavirus pandemic still prevented many in-person activities; accordingly, Night Life classes were only being held virtually at the time. Below are excerpts from the interview with Ms. Seward, edited for length and clarity.
When you started this position in February, pandemic conditions still required classes to be held remotely. As of September, classes are back in person at Worcester Tech. How’s it been going so far? And what are the benefits to being in person?
I was holding my breath for the fall because this was a real learning experience for me. I have not done in-person classes in the past. When I arrived in February, we had a few licensure classes that were being conducted online. So, it’s been fun to piece everything together and really it’s been interesting for me to visit classes where there’s a lot going on — like the welding classes, plumbing code & theory, electrical code & theory […] all of those classes have been really wonderful to have in person because it allows for hands-on learning. Especially with the trades classes, you do need the element of hands-on learning to be successful. It’s been great for people to come in and have more than just class books to look at.
We say it all the time at the Chamber: the No. 1 issue we hear from our member businesses is finding talent and lack of access to a skilled workforce. How does Night Life play a role in solving that problem?
We’re part of the bigger picture for filling jobs. We have community partners who are very interested in providing good training to either unemployed or underemployed individuals. One of the hands-on and skills-building programs we offer is our welding program — we provide a partnership between English-as-a-second-language (ESL) training and basic welding training & exposure. This helps people who are navigating English while trying to learn a good job skill so they can get a better-paying career.
We’ve been partnering with the Worcester Jobs Fund, MassHire, and DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education) to provide quality programming. One of the new programs I started up this fall is diesel technology and that is being housed over at South High through a DESE grant. […] We run a certified clinical medical assistant program and that’s a partnership with UMass Memorial Health and MassHire. [After 14 weeks of training,] we funnel every student into an externship over at UMass, and sometimes at Reliant Medical Group. We’ve had an almost 100% job placement rate doing that program. We’re [also] running a [Commercial Driver’s License] CDL program again with WPS transportation department as well as MassHire. As you know, there’s a lot of opportunity for bus drivers and the first step to getting their CDL is to get the CDL permit; we have a really fantastic instructor that comes to Worcester Tech to teach everybody the ins and outs of driving a school bus. So those are examples of some of the programs we provide. We’re always willing to work with employers. For instance, if somebody had a welding manufacturing job that they really needed people for, we can tailor our welding class to that […] We’re very willing to navigate what it is that a specific employer needs.
Beyond workforce training and licensure classes, Night Life also offers community classes. So it’s safe to say you really have something for everyone, right?
Yes, we have all kinds of training classes and those include what I like to call “community engagement classes.” So yes, we have our plumbing and electrical code & theory, our CDL, diesel technical classes, phlebotomy, [and many more], but we also offer classes that are really for enjoyment: basic quilting, photography, golf, stained glass, baking, exercise classes. If someone’s just interested in a hobby, we had an Adirondack chair making class — I mean, how fun is that? In addition, [we have] soft-skill-building classes, like how to start up your own business, and basic computer classes for if you’re trying to re-enter the workforce and just forgot how to do [Microsoft] Excel.
Prior to starting at Night Life, you were the program coordinator of the nonprofit organization Worcester Tree Initiatives. What is it about that position that prepared you for the role you have now with WPS?
When I worked for the Worcester Tree Initiative, I engaged a lot with different community partners, and that’s exactly what I’m doing now at Night Life. I also was able to develop my own education programming, class series, and tree stewardship programs. So, I had to reach out to a lot of different types of people with a lot of different expertise. I coordinated many instructors and also advertised in the community. My favorite part of working with trees was working with people to engage with trees. I just really enjoy interacting with the community and interacting with all kinds of different people, and that’s really worked well in the Night Life job.
If there’s one major lesson you’ve already taken away from this new position that you could pass on to others, what would it be?
The one major takeaway for me is recognizing there are valuable and good paying jobs that you don’t necessarily need to go to college for. And that’s really a prominent conversation we’re having a lot, especially with this generation. Night Life is part of a bigger goal to make tech schools more open to the community.
For more information on Night Life and a list of available courses, visit WorcesterNightLife.org, or call the office at (508) 751-7612.
Dominique Goyette-Connerty is the Director of Communications at the Worcester Chamber. She can be reached by email here.
This story was originally published in the November 2021 edition of Chamber Exchange: The Newspaper, a quarterly publication of the Chamber. All newspaper editions are archived here.