At age 58, Barbara Guillemette found herself laid off and searching for a job.
After a year of not finding one, the Windham resident enrolled in a 60-hour, tuition-free course at Manchester Community College to help job seekers sharpen and widen their skill sets to boost their hiring chances.
"It more or less built up my confidence," Guillemette, 61, said recently. "It sharpened my business skills."
Less than three months after completing the course, she landed a job with NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire, a Manchester nonprofit, as an administrative specialist in finance.
"I don't know where I would have ended up," Guillemette said. "My resume wouldn't have been as sharp. The way I interviewed. The way I carried myself. I think it really helped me."
More than 2,500 New Hampshire residents, including Guillemette, have graduated from the WorkReadyNH program, which is celebrating its fifth anniversary.
"The class had diverse people from different backgrounds and different careers," Guillemette said.
About 78 percent of participants were unemployed when they started the program, 10 percent worked less than 30 hours a week and the remaining 12 percent worked more than 30 hours.
A recent survey of students from the program's five years showed that 82.3 percent got hired within a year after completion.
Some graduates have gone into high tech, manufacturing, health care or financial services, said Charlotte Williams, the workforce development administrator for the Community College System of New Hampshire who oversees the program.
"It helps them strengthen workplace skills that employers look for in job applications," Williams said.
The $900,000-a-year program is offered at the state's seven community colleges.
The program doesn't cost anything for New Hampshire residents, 18 and older, who are not full-time students.
The course is spread over three weeks and tackles communications skills, critical thinking, decision making and teamwork. They also get a credential that says they meet essential workplace skills and is also a predictor of workplace success, Williams said. Participants run a wide range of ages and educational levels, she said.
Those completing the program will receive a WorkReadyNH certificate from the community college system as well as a National Career Readiness Certificate, which graduates can show employers that they possess the skills commonly associated with success when entering employment or advancing to a new job.
"That can go on their resume, absolutely and it's recognized by employers statewide," Williams said.
Guillemette said her training included forming a fake business with a small group of classmates and picking roles to play. She was CEO. Her group created On the Bench Vineyards, a play on a term for those laid off, complete with brochures and a website.
The program is a partnership of the community college system, the state Department of Resources and Economic Development and the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security.
"A pretest assessment of existing skill level and registration is required before being accepted into the program and attending a scheduled session," Williams said.
Interested potential participants can go to www.ccsnh.edu/workreadynh
and enter a WorkReadyNH Information Request form (found on the right of the webpage) and their local community college will contact them.
Or people can contact the community colleges directly.
"We try to accommodate all interested participants into their preferred class as soon as possible, occasionally waitlists occur, but the wait would only be until the next class on the schedule," Williams said.