PANAMA CITY, Florida – Zacchae’us Long hadn’t set foot in a classroom since he dropped out of school in the seventh grade. He had no goals, no idea of what he wanted to do, and decided school just wasn’t the answer.
Ten years later in 2015, after a lot of determination and hard work, he completed his GED in only one year, and now is set to graduate from the Welding Technology – Advanced program at Haney Technical Center, and already has job offers when he completes the program.
Because of his spirit of overcoming adversity and giving back to the community and his fellow students, he was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation on February 6, by Gulf Power’s Laura Blair, Residential consultant in Panama City, and committee chair of the center’s Institutional Advisory Council.
“Haney is celebrating ‘Career and Technical Education Month’ and took the time to recognize an outstanding student,” said Blair. “Gulf Power has invested in the success of the students here, through demonstrations and programs. Haney prepares students for today’s workplace here in Panama City and across Northwest Florida. Gulf Power is a partner in supporting career and technical education which enhances economic and workplace development.”
But Long’s path back to finishing school took him across the southeast. He moved to South Florida with his mother, who was caring for a special needs child needing a heart transplant, and then moved to Georgia, where he lived with his grandmother.
Throughout his childhood, he always had a desire to become a blacksmith and work with this hands. However, he first needed his GED to get started on a new path and become a modern-day blacksmith, and welding was a natural fit.
“I was a knucklehead and really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so just stopped going to school,” said Long. “I was scared about my future and the lack of opportunities without a high-school education. So, I decided I needed to go back – not only for me, but for my mom.”
But it wasn’t easy. After failing at his first attempt at the GED, he still completed the course in record time and is poised to graduate from the highest-level course in welding, and has buoyed Long’s confidence as he prepares to enter the job market.
“I love the ability to work with my hands and create things,” said Long. “Metals are the hardest materials in the world and when you make things from them, well It’s just pretty much art and so if you look at it that way, it’s exhilarating.”
Long said so far, he has four job opportunities lined up, and later this month, recruiters will scout for students at Haney.
Sandy Sims, Gulf Power’s Eastern District manager and Vice Chair for the Bay Economic Development Alliance, said an appropriately trained workforce is essential to the growth and diversification of any local economy, and schools like Haney Technical Center, are training the next generation of workers to help increase the community’s competitiveness and strengthen workforce development for the area.
“Gulf Power focuses on support of skilled technician curriculum throughout the region, including at Haney Technical Center,” said Sims. “Welding skills specifically are critically important as we support our communities working to expand existing and attract new manufacturers. One local example of the workforce demand for welders is at Eastern Shipbuilding, a company that has grown to become one of today’s leading innovators in marine construction and repair. With the recent award of the Coast Guard offshore patrol cutter project, Eastern is set to employ 900 to 1,000 workers, many of them welders, for the project at its peak before the year 2024.”
After the many hours spent completing both his GED and welding program, the biggest thing Long will receive, along with his certificate and job offers, is knowing he made his mom proud.
“Not only did I do this for me, but also to see my mom smile,” he said. “It’s been a long road to get to where I am now, and I know she is proud of me for what I’ve accomplished.”