Virtual vocational training during outbreak

NCIA moves classes online
Posted at 5:32 PM, Mar 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-31 19:24:52-04

BALTIMORE — Baltimorean Sterling Powell laughs as he recalls where he was at just 6 months ago.

"I had no knowledge of HVAC other than the window unit," said Powell.

But now, he's employed in the HVAC industry, thanks in part to a vocational training program through the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives, or NCIA.

"I went through the process of learning about the electrical phases from beginning to end, heating and gas which is a major plus in this industry today," said Powell.

The program is for veterans, returning citizens and people eligible for SNAP benefits. They can choose to get certified in the automotive, HVAC or drone industries, or become a licensed commercial driver.

"The re-entry population, they certainly deserve a second chance. Our homeless veterans, what better of a group to reach out to and help so we are helping change lives," said Gary Antonino, Chief Business Development Officer for NCIA.

Antonino said it's for that reason that they decided to adapt their programming to serve students from a distance during the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Each day there’s a lesson that the instructor is on the line working with them," said Antonino. "They can access all their learning material. There’s also the workforce development piece where they can communicate with their case managers and look at what barrier removal needs to be done and then the team leaders also work with them on a one-on-one basis with their quizzes their homework assignments."

Antonino said they have also given students cell phones, access to data and are working to distribute iPads so the learning is inclusive.

"We all know this pandemic is going to end. We don’t know when but this provides that hope that we can get them through their training and hopefully the pandemic will be over by then or winding down and they’ll now move to gainful employment," said Antonino.

Because he said right now, there's a tremendous demand for truck drivers. Their HVAC and automotive partners are also looking to hire, as they are essential and can stay open.

"Our hope is that some, like with the auto and the HVAC field, that we will be able to get some of them employed as soon as they finish their online work," said Antonino.

Powell said he thinks it's great that they are continuing the class virtually and hopes all the students, over 100 in this cohort, take it seriously.

"The best thing about it is you have the will power to succeed. You gotta do what you gotta do. So if they’re enabling you to continue the course, via phone, satellite, even with a string and a cup, you gotta do what you gotta do to be successful," said Powell.

The current cohort is in class for about 12 more weeks. There are scholarships for veterans or people receiving SNAP benefits.

To apply for the next cohort, email the recruiting team at