GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - President Barack Obama highlighted a West Michigan man and a local company who hired him after he'd lost his job in his State of the Union address Tuesday night.
The West Michigan resident in question got his job in large part due to a training program offered by Grand Rapids Community College.
Bryan Ritterby was laid off from his job at office furniture maker Haworth Inc. in 2009. He later completed GRCC's Composite Technician Training Program and got a chance at a new career.
The program teaches people the skills they need to work at Energetx Composites, a Holland company that makes wind turbines. The class is held at the plant in Holland.
"We were very excited to hear that someone from the Holland area, and who had been a part of the training with Energetx, had been asked by the President and their administration to come and be a part of the State of the Union address," said GRCC Dean of Academic Outreach Dan Clark.
Ritterby's story resonates with many here in West Michigan and across the country.
"When Bryan Ritterby was laid off from his job making furniture, he said he worried that at 55, no one would give him a second chance. But he found work at Energetx," Obama said about forty minutes into his speech.
24 Hour News 8 covered the first class in May 2010 and found on Tuesday night that about 100 people have gone through the same training program that Ritterby did.
It's an 80-hour course that lasts two weeks. GRCC officials told 24 Hour News 8 the class is made up of students of all ages, from recent high school graduates, to people in their fifties -- like 58-year-old Ritterby.
The class trains, or in many cases retrains, people for jobs.
In Obama's speech, he emphasized that he wants community colleges to become "community career centers" -- a goal that GRCC seems to be well on its way to achieving.
"We do think that we can provide a good model for other community colleges in terms of these kind of programs," said Clark.
GRCC offers several other programs job training/career oriented programs. A couple of those include training for industrial maintenance and a community health worker partnership with Spectrum Health.
Clark pointed out that GRCC has offered career training programs for decades and other community colleges offer career focused classes too.
Clark said the school is always working to create new partnerships, and plans to keep offering programs like this one.
"I think as long as the area businesses are here in the West Michigan area, and we have some very strong businesses who have been here for decades, [and] they've proven they're going to stay [and] they're very successful. We're going to be able to offer lots of good employment for our area residents in lots of different areas," said Clark.
When speaking specifically about the Energetx program, Clark went on to say, "It's really laying the foundation for those individuals to start and in many cases get a head start in terms of working with that business."
Nine people from the first Energetx class were hired to the company. Clark said every student who takes the training class is guaranteed a job interview and application for Energetx.
"Today, it's hiring workers like Bryan, who said, "I'm proud to be working in the industry of the future," Obama said about Energetx.
GRCC has not held the Energetx training program since last August because the company didn't need to fill any positions.
The school and Energetx plan to bring it back this April 20. Seats are available. Clark recommends those interested sign up as soon as possible since they do usually fill up quickly.
Alicia Boler-Davis of Detroit also sat in Michelle Obama's box. Boler-Davis is manager of GM's Orion Assembly Plant and Pontiac Stamping Plant.
Also, a decorated Marine from Holland, Sgt. Cory Gritter, joined US Rep. Bill Huizenga at the State of the Union. Huizenga represents the 2nd District in Michigan.
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