Registered nurse and union leader
Windham Technical School and Three Rivers Community College
John Brady, vice president elect of AFT Connecticut and immediate past president of the Backus Federation of Teachers
My story started out like many, with multiple jobs and sporadic layoffs. Then I went to career and technical school, and that changed everything.
When I graduated from Killingly High School in Danielson, Conn., I had no real direction. I took classes at a community college and graduated with a degree in business administration. That degree led to plenty of job opportunities, but the recession in the 1970s meant a checkered work history: There were lots of layoffs.
The challenges continued for me in the 1980s, when I worked as an aircraft assembler for Kaman Aerospace. It was good work with good pay and benefits, but because it depended on limited contracts, I was laid off three times in 10 years, for three to nine months at a time.
One of these layoffs came at the end of the Cold War, at the same time there was a decrease in defense contracts, so there was federal money for job retraining.
During the retraining sessions, my test scores showed ability in math and science, so someone suggested I consider a career in nursing. Guidance counselors in rural Connecticut in 1973, when I graduated from high school, were not really steering boys into nursing, so the idea seemed novel to me. But I’d done some basic first aid at Kaman and in youth sports and enjoyed it. So in 1990, when I was 35 years old, I signed up at Windham Technical School in Willimantic, Conn., and became a certified nurse’s aide.
It was one of the best career changes I could have made. I found I loved caring for people. And after 15 years of alternating work and unemployment, I was steadily employed. In 1994, I took a job in the emergency department of Backus Hospital in Norwich, Conn., and found my home. I have been there for 21 years.
In the 1990s, while working at Backus, I entered nursing school at Three Rivers Community College in Norwich. I worked and studied simultaneously for five years, graduating in 1999 at the top of my class.
The knowledge I gained in career and technical education—from the two community colleges and the postgrad “vo-tech” high school I attended—has allowed me to help many people in the 21 years I’ve worked in the ER (16 as a registered nurse). It’s also prepared me to be a union leader: I was recently elected an executive vice president of AFT Connecticut.
It is cost-effective and can lead to good, productive, fulfilling, middle-class lives.