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When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Tansy Troup was going on two decades as a seamstress, working full time at a dry-cleaning business in Evansville, Indiana. With her hours cut back and a compromised immune system, she was forced to finally face a truth she’d been wrestling with for a while: She needed to go back to school and get a new job.

Using a grant from the state, she enrolled in a Microsoft Office certificate program at Ivy Tech Community College. She surprised herself by making the dean’s list, and realized she wanted to keep pushing toward a degree. 

“But I was absolutely so unsure of even what to do at all,” Troup said.

Because Ivy Tech has a career coaching office, Troup, who is 38 and a first-time college student, didn’t have to figure it out alone.In the fall, she will start working toward an associate degree in business operations, applications and technology. She plans to continue consulting the coach as she looks for job opportunities over the next few years.

Now all Indiana residents, whether enrolled in college or not, are eligible for free career coaching through a partnership between Ivy Tech and the governor’s office. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s workforce cabinet – a group set up to address education and employer needs in the state – is contributing $1.2 million in an effort to zap some life into the state’s pandemic economy and help people who are floundering professionally define their next steps.

The virus crisis put hundreds of thousands of Indiana residents out of work, and although widespread vaccination efforts have allowed many businesses to reopen, many are still struggling. The state partnership with Ivy Tech is using federal coronavirus relief dollars to try to help them regain stability.

Across the country, states are grappling with how to recover and are recognizing residents’ need for guidance. Louisiana enlisted the help of a national profit to connect people with training and job opportunities. Rhode Island launched a virtual career center to help residents find training or job opportunities. And some states, like Florida and Virginia, are also working to create job training programs and workforce support. 

Related: As recession deepens, colleges are cutting back on career services

Caitlin Collins, a career coach supervisor at InsideTrack, the group that will handle the advising at Ivy Tech, said it’s not a job placement program, but a program to connect Indiana adults with a career coach who can help them focus their goals and figure out the things they need to achieve them. 

InsideTrack, a higher-education consulting business that recently became a nonprofit, is typically hired by individual colleges to do direct career or academic coaching with students or to train college staff to do the coaching themselves.

Indiana reinstated its work search requirement for unemployment insurance in early June, and participating in this career coaching program can satisfy the requirement for those who remain jobless, according to Sam Rourke, a spokesperson for the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet. 

Ivy Tech is paying for the program with $3 million in state CARES Act funding. Caroline Dowd-Higgins, vice president of career coaching and employer connections at Ivy Tech, said $1,225,500 is going to InsideTrack. The rest of the $3 million grant went toward a similar career coaching program specifically for Ivy Tech students, said PJ McGrew, the executive director of the Governor’s workforce cabinet.

Because the program only launched in mid-June, it remains unclear how many residents will take advantage of it, and whether it will help them land decent jobs.

Related: A college makes career education mandatory for all students

The coaching could mean supporting people like Troup, who know they need to make a change but don’t know what to do or how to do it. It could mean helping people who lost jobs during the pandemic and need help reentering the workforce. Or it could mean helping people who are underemployed and don’t know how to leverage their skills and experience to get more profitable or fulfilling jobs.

Coaches will also be able to help residents update resumes and LinkedIn profiles, write cover letters and follow up on applications, Collins said. One career coach has been assigned so far and will carry a caseload of roughly 300 individuals at any given point in the year. If more people sign up, Collins said she will assign additional coaches to the program.

Ivy Tech has 19 campuses enrolling more 90,000 college students each year and 60,000 high school students through dual-enrollment programs, Dowd-Higgins said. Even though the new program won’t serve current students, she said the college wanted to invest in it because it  believes it shares the responsibility to ensure the Indiana job market is thriving. And it could also help Ivy Tech gain students.

“It behooves us to be very aware of what’s happening on the ground, and I’ll be candid, some of these individuals may require upskilling or additional credentials, and the InsideTrack coaches can share the Ivy Tech opportunities,” Dowd-Higgins said. “That’s not our motive, but we certainly want to be able to point any individual who needs additional skilling or credentialing, or micro credentialing, to consider Ivy Tech.”

Each person is eligible for four virtual coaching sessions over four months, and the program is set to run for a year.

Related: Despite being recruited, older students in college are often left to struggle    

Troup met with her career coach only a few times over the last few months when deciding what major to pursue at Ivy Tech, but she said she hopes to keep meeting with the coach as she makes her way toward graduation and tries to figure out what her new career path should look like.

The coaching is likely to be a little different for every resident who takes advantage of the program, as it has been for students receiving career support through the Ivy Tech program. 

Marvin Giles, a 19-year-old Ivy Tech student, got connected with a career coach immediately upon enrolling at Ivy Tech last fall. They met each week, which Giles said was valuable as he made the transition to college. He said he hopes to continue meeting with the coach until he graduates with an associate degree in information technology and figures out how he will start his career.

Giles said he and his career coach talk about his big-picture goals a lot, and when it comes time, he said his coach will help him figure out how to get an internship. 

“You can’t always do everything by yourself,” Giles said.

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Olivia Sanchez is a higher education reporter. She previously covered local and state government for the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland. Sanchez earned a bachelor's degree in psychology...

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