Workforce Wednesday: Liliana Saldana found a career helping her community through the GRCC Public Works Academy

 In 2019, Liliana Saldana wasn’t sure what she wanted to do.

“After high school, I didn’t head right to college. I was indecisive about what I wanted to do.”

A family member suggested that she look into the Grand Rapids Community College Public Works Academy.

“They thought it would be a great way for me to explore different types of work and it really was.”

GRCC and area municipalities partnered to create the academy. Public works employees are vitally important in our communities, and in great demand across West Michigan.

“The Public Works Academy was a real eye-opener for me. It was interesting learning about what a city has to do support its citizens,” Saldana said. “There is so much! I liked that so much of it was learning hands-on skills. I also didn’t realize all the rules and safety protocols necessary to know.”

This program features a small class size, hands-on training, and job placement assistance. Participants have a career coach and a job developer to help support their success. As part of the program, successful graduates are interviewed by local public works departments.

Saldana credits the Public Works Academy for her opportunity to work for the City of Grand Rapids.

“It was great that I got interviews with the different cities. It took a while to hear back but I had a second interview, this time it was for a customer service position. That surprised me! They said that because I had the knowledge that I learned from the hands-on training, I was a really good fit.”

Saldana is proud she has been able to improve customer service to the Hispanic community.

“Because I am bilingual, I was really able to help with our Spanish-speaking customers,” she said. “Many of the issues that I saw when I first started were mostly due to language.”

Municipalities are looking for people who are passionate about improving the lives of those around them.

“The public works department is so critical. Working through the pandemic helped me see how it’s really essential. From the roads, to trash, to trees – people don’t realize how this work impacts our quality of life.”

Saldana thinks the Public Works Academy is great for anyone who is not sure what they want to do and don’t want college debt.

“If you are ready to get into the workforce and you like hands-on jobs, working outside, different tasks every day, or customer service and office work, this program is for you.”

Many of the public works positions are seasonal, meaning the tasks or duties may change depending on the season.

“In the winter your job may be snow plowing, but in the summer, you can be filling potholes and other street work. It’s great if you get bored easily because it can change throughout the year. Plus, it’s easy to move around once you start. It’s hard to explain because there is so much to it!”

Taking this program really opened Saldana’s eyes to how we treat our environment and sparked a passion she didn’t even know she had.

“It made me realize how much I enjoy learning about the environment and the sustainability aspect of our systems. It genuinely makes me happy. I do want to go back GRCC to take some classes on that and the City of Grand Rapids offers tuition reimbursement.

“With the way our city is growing, we have to plan for the future. There is going to be more and more people needed to keep it going and keep it a great place to live.”

The next session of the Public Works Academy begins Oct. 18, 2022. The class meets on Tuesday and Thursday evenings for 15 weeks at the Tassell M-TEC, located at 622 Godfrey Ave SW in Grand Rapids. The cost of this program is $650; however, if you live in the City of Grand Rapids, your cost is $25.

For more information contact the M-TEC at 616-234-3376.

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