Changing careers with Lorne Cunningham

Changing careers at any age is daunting; having to go back to school to do so is even more challenging. Doing it after reaching 50 is the challenge that Lorne took on in 2015.

Lorne had worked in the printing industry for 12 years and then as a mechanic for over 15 years. In December 2014, Lorne lost his employment of 3 years as a team lead because of a company closure. Lorne contacted Seneca College’s Employment Centre in Newmarket and became a client of employment consultant Keri Graham. After participating in the career exploration workshop, Lorne expressed interest in a career change to the social service worker field. He had volunteered at the Sutton Youth Shelter and felt that he had something to offer and wanted to give back to the community.

It was determined that he qualified for the Second Career funding program available through the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training. Lorne initially selected a private career college which had a start date in early 2015. Unfortunately, the private college suddenly shut its doors, so Lorne applied to Fleming College which offered the Social Service Worker Program in May 2015. To his dismay, he did not score successfully on the required mature student English test.

Lorne’s employment consultant, Keri Graham, referred him to the Academic Upgrading Program also offered at Seneca College’s Newmarket location. Lorne completed the Academic Upgrading entrance assessment on March 31. His assessment indicated that he only needed to complete the ACE Communications course in order to qualify for college. Lorne then discussed his options with Denise Pegler, the Program Advisor for the Academic Upgrading Program. If he enrolled in the semester beginning on May 4, he could be ready to start college in September. Denise suggested that Lorne consider Seneca College’s Social Service Worker Program at the King Campus which would be closer to home and which still had open seats for the 2015 Fall semester.

With only a few weeks to make this happen, a letter of enrollment to the Academic Upgrading Program was provided to Lorne on April 8, and Keri was able to amend Lorne’s Second Career application to include English and computer classes for the Summer 2015 semester and enrollment in the SSW Program at Seneca for the Fall 2015 semester.

For the first weeks in the Academic Upgrading Program, Lorne admits that he struggled. By mid-June, it was clear that Lorne needed help to ensure that he would meet the requirements by August 11 when the course ended. The English teacher worked out a timeline to guide Lorne through the different requirements of the course, and Lorne earned a B+ in ACE Communications. In addition, the computer instructor worked closely with Lorne so that he was successful in earning an A+ in the computer course.

In September 2015 Lorne began his first semester in college. This was another major adjustment. In addition to meeting the requirements of five courses at the same time, Lorne had not anticipated having to use online technology and spend many hours outside class to complete the assignments and communicate with other students and the professors.

In addition, Lorne felt that the roles were reversed since he had been the senior employee with younger people under his leadership in his last employment and now most of the professors were younger than Lorne and most of the students were the age of his children. After a few weeks, the professors and students bonded. A lot of the classwork involved group projects; this resulted in a lot of discussion and required much self-reflection and learning to deal with situations in different ways. While in the program, there were several deaths in Lorne’s family. Kevin Kennedy, one of Lorne’s professors, helped him overcome what he was dealing with by showing him how to deal with events in small steps. Another professor challenged him which made him work harder and achieve better results.

One of the best experiences he had during his two years in the Social Service Worker Program was the two-week trip to Jamaica with the School of Community Services Jamaica Program. While in Jamaica, the participants worked in hospitals, shelters, schools, and the community. Lorne was assigned to work in homeless shelters during the day and with the youth in the community in the evenings. He is hoping to return to Jamaica as a mentor with Seneca in 2019 in order to be able to continue to give back.

Lorne graduated with his diploma at the June 2017 convocation. “I had very supportive and amazing professors throughout my time at Seneca including the amazing staff in Seneca Employment Services and Academic Upgrading.”

Today Lorne works as a support worker in a centre for men with addictions; the men range in age from 20 to 60. Lorne feels that being a recovering alcoholic himself helps him to relate and connect with his clients.

Lifelong learning has become an important criteria in a successful and satisfying life. At 55, Lorne is a great example of this. Already he is signing up for other sessions to continue to expand his knowledge and abilities in the field of social service work.

December 12, 2017

Prepared and submitted by Denise Pegler
Program Advisor Academic Upgrading Program Seneca College

College Sector Employment Services
A network of Ontario colleges who deliver employment services to all Ontarians.
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