At 52, Mike Troidl is starting over.
The Pasco man has been doing construction since he was 16 years old and was a project coordinator for American Electric when he was laid off earlier this year.
At the time, he didn’t know what the future would hold. Now, with the help of the Dislocated Hanford Worker Retraining program, Troidl’s hopes to have his new business, MT Home Inspections, open by October.
Although more than 1,500 workers have been laid off from Hanford contractors since 2011, the reality of it for Troidl and others like him, doesn’t really settle until they reach the unemployment line.
“I hadn’t been unemployed for many years,” said Troidl. “I felt like I didn’t know where I was going to go.”
His first stop was the WorkSource Columbia Basin, where he received a packet of information and forms for filing for unemployment.
Within that packet, a flier for the Dislocated Hanford Worker Retraining Program caught Troidl’s eye.
Kristin Bridges, an employment specialist at WorkSource who works exclusively with dislocated Hanford workers, said the program can provide grant funding for training, tuition for college, trade schools or certifications, basic literacy, computer skills, job search and placement assistance and more.
In April, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded a $1.3 million National Emergency Grant to the Washington State Employment Security Department to specifically help workers affected by layoffs at companies engaged in environmental cleanup work at Hanford.
The grant allowed WorkSource to hire Bridges and two other employment specialists to help laid off Hanford workers embark on new careers.
After Troidl read the flier in his packet, he made an appointment with Bridges to see if he qualified for the program and to determine what his path might be.
“They really go through your background and your skills to see if there is a way to steer you or help you find what you want to do,” he said.
Troidl had an idea. When he had purchased a home in Kennewick five years prior, he had it inspected. At the time, his real estate agent had mentioned to Troidl that he should consider becoming a home inspector.
“He said he thought I would be good at it,” Troidl said.
Troidl asked his caseworker if that was an option, and the wheel was rolling. But Troidl had to provide the biggest push to get the option off the ground.
“I had to obtain some referrals from real estate agents that said that if I got licensed they would refer me,” Troidl said.
Within a few days, Troidl had a handful of letters from real estate agents and had started a business plan.
Bolstered by a good business plan and a long history in the construction business, Troidl’s plan to pursue home inspection certification was approved.
The certification required Troidl to complete 120 hours of classroom instruction followed by 40 hours of on-the-job training.
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t cheap, but Troidl said the help he received through the program was invaluable.
“They paid for the course, which was $3,500, and my books, which were $210,” he said.
On top of that, the program covered the cost of 18 days of hotel stays in the Seattle area and is helping with the some of the costs of licensing his business and some tools.
Troidl said all that’s left for him is to take the final certification test, then he can get his license and bond.
“Then I will be on my way,” he said. “I’m excited, pumped and ready to go.”
While Troidl pursues a new business with the help of the program, Al Rizzo is looking at a new career.
Rizzo, of Richland, spent nearly 18 years at Hanford as an environmental scientist for Fluor.
He got 60 days notice that he was going to be laid off. He was 51 and the work he was doing at Hanford was very specialized to the site.
“That’s part of the reason I ended up in the program,” he said. “What I did out there is not private-sector work — you won’t even find it through environmental work. It wasn’t anywhere. I looked all over the country.”
So he gave up on that idea and started looking for opportunities closer to home, interviewing at banks and insurance companies. But he wasn’t getting any offers.
He heard about the program through WorkSource, signed up and met with case worker Leticia Torres.
“I wanted to do something different,” he said. “I had a friend who is a database administrator and my brother works for Oracle. I checked into becoming a database administrator and found that it met the criteria.”
Although the job met the program’s criteria of being in-demand, case workers also have to make sure the training is right for those pursuing it, said Bridges.
Rizzo is now attending CBC, pursuing a degree in information technology. At the same time, he volunteers at Kadlec, doing database work to gain experience.
“I’m hoping to get a paid internship there and figured (volunteering) was a good way to get my food in the door,” he said.
He considers his unemployment check to be his paycheck for going to school.
“That’s my job right now,” he said.
He knows that when he graduates he won’t be making the same kind of money he was at Hanford, but with a few years of hard work, he can get where he wants to be.
“This training will get me into an entry-level position,” he said. “But if you have two years of experience and the right certifications, you are looking at $100,000 a year.”
Bridges said she is surprised they haven’t had more laid off Hanford workers taking part in the program.
So far, only about 140 workers have been helped. Bridges said they would like to have helped up to 400 by the time the program expires in March, which is just around the corner.
“Right now we are trying to get the word out to as many people as possible so that we can meet our enrollment quotas and increase our opportunities for additional funding for our community,” she said.
For more information about the program, visit WorkSource at 815 N. Kellogg St. Suite D in Kennewick.