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October 7, 2014

David Craven had worked in sales and management for six years at one of San Diego’s prestigious auto dealerships. But in December 2009, mired in the depths of the Great Recession, the carmaker closed its doors, simultaneously closing the doors on Craven’s career in this industry. 

Craven was initially excited about the opportunity to move into something new, but looking back now acknowledges that he was incredibly naïve about the job climate. “At that point, I knew little about the mostly desolate employment prospects awaiting older, displaced ‘white-collar’ workers,” he says.

During this time, Craven periodically—and he admits in retrospect, half-heartedly—pursued employment opportunities in marketing, sales and banking. But he found nothing. Craven joined and participated regularly in networking groups, meeting hundreds of people in situations similar to his. By late 2010, unemployed for a year, he was discouraged and rudderless. 

Craven and his wife, who had lost her job in 2010, were able to get by on unemployment. He explains that their benefits were far less than their regular workplace checks, but they had lived within their means and were therefore able to remain stable without dipping too deep into savings or retirement accounts. “For both of us, long-term unemployment benefits proved a godsend,” Craven says. “It helped each of us successfully transition back into the workplace.”

Early in 2011, Craven paid a visit to a friend, Tamara McCleod, Director of Professional Development for San Diego State’s College of Extended Studies. McCleod and Craven discussed his qualifications, which, he says, were considerable but no way clearly focused or directed. They explored some of the programs offered by Extended Studies to see if there might be a fit for him. “Tamara spoke highly of the East County Career Center (ECCC) and suggested I explore the resources available there,” Craven says. “That would prove to be a genuine stroke of good fortune.”

In the next few months, Craven took advantage of the ECCC’s extensive employment resources—career counseling, résumé preparation, job-hunting tips and tactics, household budgeting, aptitude testing and, most importantly to Craven, re-training programs for career transition. 

At the conclusion of these ECCC sessions, Craven had come to a decision on a new career direction: healthcare. “My previous careers had provided me great personal satisfaction—a considerable number of awards, recognition and a nice living,” he says. “But these experiences contributed nothing toward the betterment of society, and this time around, I wanted my work to be about that.”

Craven decided to pursue Medical Coding and Billing, a program offered through SDSU’s College of Extended Studies, which could be paid for by the San Diego Workforce Partnership. 

In the spring of 2011, he started the six-month program, but finished in three. “Out of work and highly motivated, I sped through the course, and I excelled,” Craven says. “But I knew I needed more qualifications, especially lacking work experience in my new field.” At his own expense and on his own time, Craven studied and prepared for national certification as an inpatient coder. On the last day of September, he completed the exam, scoring extremely well. Craven was now a Certified Coding Associate through the American Health Information Management Association. 

Craven knew that he would need work experience to secure a job in health information, so he found a volunteer opportunity with Sharp Memorial Hospital, where he would work in the Kidney Transplant Department. “The staff there was appreciative, supportive and extremely helpful,” he says. “I was given wonderful on-the-job responsibilities and often devoted more than 20 hours a week there.”

Early in January 2012, Craven received an email regarding a job he’d applied for two months before. In matter of a few weeks, he was offered a position as a Medical Records Technician for the Military Sealift Command, providing Occupational Health services to civilian crews that staff U.S. Navy supply ships. “I very much appreciated and enjoyed the job, but about a year after I started, I decided that I wanted to advance further in the medical field,” he explains.

So, once again, Craven is a student. But this time, it’s part-time while he continues to work full-time. “My experience with my Workforce Partnership-funded training had re-kindled my thirst for knowledge and given me the confidence to pursue more online education,” he says.

For the last two years, Craven has been studying Cancer Information Management at Santa Barbara City College. His goal is to become a Cancer Tumor Registrar, “a vital though little known role in the struggle to find a cure for cancer,” he describes. Craven plans to complete the program in about a year. 

“None of this could have happened without the Workforce Partnership and the East County Career Center,” Craven says. “I am the embodiment of someone who seized an opportunity, ran with it, and prospered. But again, none of it happens without the opportunity.”

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