A little more than a decade ago, Robert Caldwell sat on a stoop in New York City, filling out application paperwork for AmeriCorps Vista.
“I remember saying, ‘I don’t know where this is going to take me,’ but lo and behold a few months later Omaha called me,” he said. “I made that transition here.”
Caldwell was sponsored by Metropolitan Community College and put to work as a veteran support specialist. It was work he enjoyed, even given the stress of the Vista program itself.
“You live in poverty,” he said. “I made $600 a month and I had to pay rent. The thing about it was, [that] I was already in poverty. I felt like I needed to do something I could get up in the morning and feel really good about the impact that [I was] making.
“My father is a disabled Vietnam veteran and I heard that the mission here was to help service veterans. I felt like that was something that made sense for me, knowing my father’s circumstances.”
Connecting with Students
Caldwell’s commitment and rapport with people impressed his supervisors so much that after his hitch with AmeriCorps was over, he was hired on full time. A little over three years ago, he was promoted into his current role –— workforce training manager and project manager — where he continues his mission of equipping people with the skills they need to build the career of their dreams.
“Some of the programs that I think are really notable would be our Project Management Academy,” he said. “We have a drone flight school that’s really cool that we put together. We also have coursework for pharmacy technicians and veterinarian assistants. We are the only ones that I know of locally that’s doing some block chain training.
“It’s kind of all over the map — it really is anything from trades to IT to business. We’re constantly balancing a variety of different new programs and projects that are on the horizon.”
Caldwell speaks with particular pride about the IT training programs he manages, courses that more often than not pave the way to a better life for students.
“We train people who are unemployed or underemployed or working part-time to get quickly into high-paying IT jobs,” he said. “When I say quickly, it’s a 12-week program.
“At the back end of it, you get a certification from CompTIA which is a globally recognized credentialing body and we have employers at the table right now with dozens of positions open, ready to hire these individuals.
“Some of our graduates start in a position and within a year’s time their salary has increased tens of thousands of dollars via promotion or just advancing in their career. You can move up quickly in IT.”
Changing Lives Through Education
Here again, what makes Caldwell good at his job is his ability to relate to the students he’s there to serve.
“I’m a first-generation college student,” he said. “My father was a postal worker, my mother was a stay-at-home mother. When I was in college, I had a class where everyone had to identify five people who could help [them] network when [they] got out of college and maybe help you find a position. I realized I didn’t have anyone. I mean my family, friends, everyone around me really was working class. There [was no one] who owned businesses or had connections.
“At the end of the day, I feel like serving others and giving back makes an impact, whether it’s at work or just a little bit of volunteering. My personal philosophy is we should all be playing a part in small ways to help others.”