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September 20, 2014

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The Economy:

Training’s fast and jobs abound, so nursing aide program packs ’em in

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Sam Morris

College of Southern Nevada Nursing Director Jan Kramer comments on the length of student Yonari Guzman’s hair before a pinning ceremony Tuesday for students in the certified nursing assistant program.

At an orientation last week for the College of Southern Nevada’s summer nursing assistant program, its director asked attendees how many were pursuing an education as a result of the economy.

About two dozen audience members raised their hands, and one in the back whispered, “Everyone.”

The program director followed up with a pep talk, calling the occupation “recession-proof.”

“If you know a nursing assistant right now who can’t find a job, they’re not looking,” Carla Wright told the students. Many of the students in CSN’s spring program had jobs waiting for them before last week’s graduation.

Earlier this spring, when CSN began registering students for summer classes, 30 spots for the nursing assistant program filled within hours, Wright said. Sixty seats added later were also snatched up quickly. Although the nursing assistant program has long been popular, in past years it took a couple of weeks or so to fill 30 summer spaces, Wright said.

That demand is indicative of patterns at CSN, whose student body has recently expanded at several times the rate of Clark County’s population.

The college enrolled 41,766 students in fall 2008, 6.2 percent more than the college enrolled the previous fall. Although the school experienced similar growth in fall 2007, enrollment increases in some previous years were smaller. Southern Nevada’s recession began in November 2007, according to UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research.

CSN spokeswoman K.C. Brekken emphasizes that the college does not have data linking spikes in attendance to the economy. Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence abounds.

Wright’s program, in particular, provides insight into Las Vegas’ current economic condition, offering a glimpse of the thoughts, hopes and perseverance of some of the men and women struggling in today’s recession.

Compared with previous years, Wright is seeing more older students — experienced workers looking to launch new careers. Among those who landed a spot in the program were out-of-work former Strip resort employees and a construction manager who lost his job and six-figure salary when the housing market crashed.

Veronica Moats, 48, moved from Alaska to Nevada in December in part to help take care of aging parents in Pahrump. She saw Southern Nevada as a fast-growing community and had high hopes for finding work quickly.

The former weather observer for the Federal Aviation Administration said she has applied for about 60 jobs — from clerical positions to postings at convenience stores and CityCenter — and gotten no interviews.

“I was willing to be a porter,” said Moats, who enrolled in Wright’s summer program after learning about bright employment prospects for nursing assistants.

The nursing assistant program is ideal for students looking to switch careers and start making money quickly. After a seven-week summer session that includes intensive lecture, lab and clinical classes, aspiring nursing assistants can sit for a certification exam.

Nursing assistants bathe, shave, dress and otherwise care for patients. The median wage for professionals performing those tasks in Nevada in 2008 was $13.23 per hour, according to the state Employment, Training and Rehabilitation Department.

While many of Wright’s students drew higher salaries in previous careers, several laid off recently said they were happy at the prospect of just getting a paycheck again.

Ljuba Cetic, 42, lost her job at Caesars Palace in December after spending 11 years there, most recently as a head hostess.

“I just decided to finish school because it’s so hard to find a job, especially in the hotels now,” she said.

She had begun taking classes part time at CSN about two years ago, hoping to become a registered nurse. She signed up for the nursing assistant program because she could complete it more quickly than the coursework to become a registered nurse.

“I don’t have two years to spend studying,” Cetic said.

Despite the challenges they have faced, Cetic and Moats might consider themselves lucky. Even last week, Wright was fielding inquiries from applicants desperate to get into the summer program.

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