By Danae Columbus, Uptown Messenger

Like many New Orleanians, Tiffany Turner has been having a tough time during the pandemic.  She was eager to train for a different career when she saw a Facebook post about Goodwill Technical College’s new Hospitality to Healthcare program for displaced tourism industry workers.

“As a driver for Uber and Lyft, I am used to making a good living taking passengers to and from the airport, but it got much harder to make a profit,” she said.

Armed with a love of accounting, Turner quickly realized that Goodwill could help her achieve her goal of transitioning to a well-paying job in medical billing without expensive college loans. “I am so thankful for this opportunity,” Turner said.

According to the Louisiana Workforce Commission, 56,000 individuals in the state have been displaced during the pandemic. More specifically, about 25,000 workers in New Orleans are faced with a difficult decision to pivot current skills into other sectors and career pathways, according to Goodwill. Many economists are predicting that the full recovery of the hospitality industry make take three to five years.

Prior to COVID-19, Goodwill Technical College, part of Goodwill Industries of Southeastern Louisiana’s workforce development services, was best known for its hospitality training program, S.T.A.R.T.  With the help of a $100,000 grant from the RosaMary Foundation, the college, located at 2740 Canal St., focused its efforts on the health care industry. Classes are being offered, at no cost to qualified participants, for certifications in Medical Billing & Coding and Medical Office Administrative Assistant.

Students who complete the health care training programs are eligible to take national certification exams administered by the National Health Career Association.  S.T.A.R.T. graduates receive a technical diploma and are eligible to be certified by the American Health & Lodging Education Institute and the National Retail Foundation upon successful completion of certification exams.

“More than 70 individuals inquired about the program but not all met the basic criteria of being displaced by the hospitality industry,” said Kiedra Williams, the director of academics. “This is such a unique opportunity at a time when hospitality workers need help.”

Twelve students began in-person classes earlier this week. A second cohort will begin in June. Most students utilize Veterans Affairs or other public programs to fund their fees. GTC will also work with students who need financial aid. “Because we are under the Goodwill Industries umbrella we are able to access many additional services our students might benefit from,” Williams said.

GTC also offers career placement services to its students and graduates and stays in close contact with students after employment, she said.

In addition to the GTC, other workforce development services include Job Readiness Skills Training, Employment Assistance and Supportive Services Opportunities.  By offering a holistic approach that includes case management as well as supportive and wraparound services, Goodwill Industries continues to serve thousands of individuals each year who have experienced barriers to improving their economic self-sufficiency.

“After I start working in the health care field, I might still drive occasionally for Uber and Lyft,” Turner said. “But it will just be for fun.”

Read the original Uptown Messenger story here.