Nola Ryan’s path to her career as a CDL truck driver has been rocky, but she used the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program to set herself on a path to success. Nola, a longtime Austin resident and Johnston High School (now Eastside Memorial High School) alumna, began her professional life working in a retirement system that provides benefits to state employees and retirees. However, in 2003, Nola began struggling with addiction, and she was in and out of prison through 2014.
“I went to prison five times,” Nola said. “When I got out the last time, I knew I needed to make the change. With that amount of time [in prison], I probably could’ve gotten a master’s degree.” Nola said she was tempted to return to her former lifestyle, but she was determined to succeed. “I almost slipped,” she said, “But I knew I needed to make the change for good, in order to get back into the job market and make good money.”
Nola received food stamps through the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, which referred her to Workforce Solutions’ occupational training services. Nola enrolled in the WIOA program through Workforce Solutions, and she took a CDL course at Austin Community College. “I looked into truck driving because it was the easiest way for me to make the money that I was making when I left [the workforce] in 2003,” she said. Truck driving training allowed Nola to obtain her CDL certification within five short weeks!
Nola said truck driving training’s short duration appealed to her, because she knew that in order for stay out of prison, she would need to train quickly and earn an income as soon as possible. Also, she wanted a change of scenery. “I was used to being behind the desk in the retirement industry,” she said. A self-described “girly girl”, Nola said, “I had never really looked into transportation and trucking. I thought it would be a different type of experience.” Importantly, she said the transportation industry can be accepting of job seekers with backgrounds. “The times I came out [of prison] previously, I let it get me down – my background issues,” Nola said.
Nola worked with Pat Sartor, a Workforce Solutions WIOA Career Counselor, to enroll in CDL training. “I was very proactive about when I could start training,” Nola said. She visited ACC and spoke with a recruiter, and she also conducted online research about CDL training. “Everything just happened really fast,” she said. “Pat took the initiative to get me in there as fast as I could. Pat made it happen for me. She didn’t allow me any time to get discouraged.” Nola attended a rigorous class schedule for five weeks – 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tim Loch, an instructor with the CDL program, was “encouraging, supportive and informative, to say the least,” Nola said. With the help of Tim and the rest of the ACC CDL staff, Nola passed the CDL test!
Before Nola began training, she had attended a job fair for Goodwill, at which Goodwill offered Nola a full time job. When Nola began her rigorous training, Goodwill’s Jason Stewart worked with Nola’s schedule and allowed her flexible weekend hours working part time in its warehouse. “I knew I wanted to drive [as a CDL truck driver] for Goodwill,” Nola said, and she hoped that Goodwill would promote from within once she obtained her CDL.
On July 27, 2016, Goodwill promoted Nola to a full time position as a box truck driver! Nola hopes that a CDL driver position will become available, but for now she enjoys learning how the entire Goodwill organization works, not just one particular position.
Nola said she enjoys driving for Goodwill, and she especially appreciates the “empowering experience” of breaking barriers in a field in which women are underrepresented. “I’m a girly girl, so I don’t see too many women like me who are in the industry,” Nola said. “I’d never owned a pair of steel toed boots. But mine are pink!”
About the WIOA Program
The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) program is a no-cost employment program designed to give job seekers the support and/or skills training they need to find a job. Specifically, WIOA can provide:
- Job search assistance
- Child care assistance while in training
- Transportation assistance
- Interview clothing and uniforms
- Tools needed for your new job
- Funding for basic skills and occupational training
For more information about the program and eligibility, please visit www.wfscapitalarea.com.