A workforce training program is highlighting the story of one Pinellas County woman, to show how the program is transforming lives throughout Tampa Bay.
Sharon Brindamour’s life took an unexpected turn as she found herself at a crossroads in 2021. After years of being a devoted caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer’s and her husband battling cancer, both died within two months of each other.
“I was taking care of both of them and handling all their financial stuff and all the debt that comes along with that, so it was hard to make ends meet,” said Brindamour, 62. “I knew I needed to go back to work, but at my age, I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Brindamour started going to local career fairs in search of a fresh start and noticed a booth showcasing a robot, illustrating some of the machinery used at AmSkills, a nonprofit that offers hands-on training in mechatronics, machining and robotics through its Career Discovery Bootcamps.
At first, Brindamour was hesitant, believing her age and gender weren’t the right fit for a career in manufacturing, but the AmSkills staff encouraged her to sign up for a Career Discovery Camp.
“I’d probably say 90% of our students have no manufacturing background,” said Alisa Franz, Bootcamp and Admin Manager for AmSkills. “You don’t have to have any manufacturing background to get an entry-level manufacturing job. I always say that these companies hire for attitude first, then for skills. So if somebody is willing to learn something new, they enjoy working with their hands, and they’re able to put their mind to it, then there’s lots of room for growth.”
Brindamour was willing to give it a shot, signing up for the two-week camp that introduces job seekers to hands-on projects in precision measurement, soldering, electrical and mechatronics basics and workplace safety. The camp also includes resume and interview coaching, an employability skills assessment through the Florida Ready to Work program, and introductions to local employers.
“At first, I was really scared and thinking, ‘I’m not gonna be able to do this.’ I was nervous about working with tools and being around younger people, just all kinds of things that were going through my head when I was trying to doubt myself,” Brindamour said. “But I had to try to stay positive and tell myself, ‘I can do this.”
‘My kids were there to help me too by saying they were proud of me, every time I told them about something that happened in school or that I passed a test. They helped lift me up and make me feel good about it, so it kept me going.”
Brindamour had her first interview the day she graduated from the AmSkills camp and landed a job in January 2023 as a Production Assembly Maker at Custom Manufacturing & Engineering, a woman-owned engineering design and manufacturing company in Pinellas Park.
“I’m training people now. I’m training people how to make cables and harnesses and things, something I never in a million years thought I’d be doing at 62 years old,” Brindamour said. “I wanted to make sure, especially my age, that I was going to do something I actually like doing. The job that I’m doing now, I can actually make a difference. I’m very picky about my work and making sure I do it just right. I guess I’m a quick learner. I never thought I’d be doing what I’m doing now, but it’s fun, it’s exciting.”
The AmSkills program not only provided Sharon with the technical skills needed for her new role, but also equipped her with the confidence and preparation essential for re-entering the workforce. This successful transition highlights the valuable support that organizations like AmSkills can offer to individuals seeking to revitalize their careers or begin a new journey into manufacturing and engineering.
“About 50% of our students typically get hired on to one of the companies that we work with,” Franz said. “The ones that really put effort into the Bootcamp, they love it and they succeed. We have a lot of kids that are 18 to 24 years old, but we have a lot of older people as well. I think the oldest lady that we’ve gotten a job was 72.”
Franz said the overall positive experiences of those who go through the Career Discovery Bootcamp underscores the importance of accessible and comprehensive career training programs like AmSkills. She encourages anyone, regardless of age, gender or past work experience, to sign up for the $25 program.
“If you’re unemployed and you really want a good job with benefits, that you can move up in, then why not give it a shot?”
AmSkills hosts Career Discovery Bootcamps in Pinellas County at the Lealman Exchange community center and in Pasco County at its AmSkills Workforce Innovation Center, located at 4606 Darlington Rd. in Holiday. For more information about upcoming programs, visit amskills.org.