Job training program provides second chances

Kimberly Gammons, CET’s basic skills instructor and advisor, helps students get the core skills they need, like resume writing, to get employed. There are about 112 total students in the program. (Staff photo by Laura Campbell)

“We help everyone, no matter their previous experience or issue,” said Greg Hardy, the job development director at Center for Employment Training.

That is the message being sent out to Durham by CET, located at 807 E. Main St. in the Golden Belt Building. CET assists people in finding a career that best fits their skills. Career training includes fields like Business Office Technology, Medical Insurance Billing, Medical Office Administration and Building Maintenance Service.

CET has been a contributor in helping people recover from hard times and look for a new beginning. The organization has 17 locations around the United States, but only three are outside of California.

“Ninety-nine percent of our students are from this community – Durham,” said Hardy. “These are our students.”

Hardy is a Durham native who grew up attending Fayetteville Elementary, Shepard Middle and Hillside High schools. He said CET students also come from every community but in particular some of the rougher ones including MacDougal Terrace, Cornwallis Road Housing and Braggtown.

CET was founded in 1967 by a group of citizens who were concerned about their low income and working poor neighbors in a barrio in East San Jose, Calif. To help, they established a training center to assist them.

Nikki White, CET’s business office technology instructor and advisor, said CET came out of this California migrant farm worker movement.

White, who spent several years working graphic designs at a magazine, said that their curriculum is just as relevant as any other community or technical college.

The North Carolina Community College System licenses CET.

“We try to stay relevant so when they graduate they have a chance to be successful,” said White who also used to teach GED courses at an alternative school. “Durham is a medical mecca and those courses are the most popular.”

Hardy said staff, like White, works well with students. He said, the mission of CET is to build up people and communities. He began working for CET in 2012 and said that they serve all of Durham’s citizens.

“We don’t discriminate,” said Hardy. “People’s personalities, issues and baggage are the toughest issues. It’s difficult to address needs when you know they just need help and not a handout.”

Hardy said that people can often see a break through but can’t fully get there because of political red tape, such as a drug abuse history or criminal records. Hardy said 70 percent of CET students have had run-ins with the law.

Sinclair Nicholson is the admissions director for CET. He grew up in Northampton County, N.C. and also Dekalb County, Ga. He said that from his experience, many people in Durham have “little hope.”

Nicholson, like many folks at CET, at one time had a job but didn’t have a degree to “get ahead.”

“Just like people in Durham, I was scared to go back to school because I was afraid of math.”

But eventually, Nicholson learned he had a gift of teaching and this led him to the education field and working at CET.

“Coming from Dekalb County you think you’ve seen it all,” said Nicholson. “But Durham is different.”

The story, Nicholson said, is about students who come to CET.

“It’s Harvard to some,” he said. “A person isn’t a zip code or background sheet. We’re helping those with barriers and the underserved.”

One of those people that CET helped was Cedric Mercer.

Mercer is a Durham native and has been through high schools here, like Southern and Northern. After high school he went to the U.S. Army for a few years.

“After I left the army I had a stable job at Nortel, but had a job accident,” said Mercer.

After the accident, he “caught charges” and it became hard for him to find a job.

“I found work but mostly in dead end jobs,” he said.

Mercer came to CET in 2010 and graduated in business tech. He applied for a job with CET admissions and got one as admissions and director assistant.

“I learned enrollment, concepts and accounts payable,” said Mercer. “Eventually I moved up to admissions advisor and I’m still here.”

Mercer spent about 900 hours in the business tech class and said that it can be completed in six and a half to seven months.


“After seven months you can prepare to be employed,” said Mercer.

Staff and faculty have invested ownership in students. Mercer said CET’s job is to provide students opportunities and then train them up to make them viable.

Nicholson added that many people in the community think nobody cares but in his line of work that is untrue. He believes there is hope for everyone.

“The hood is not bad,” said Nicholson. “It’s just conditioned a group of people to accept failure.”

“At CET everyone teaches students to not except failure.”

To learn more about CET visit their website at or call 919.686.4050.


CET Quick Facts

CET is a nonprofit entity primarily relying on federal funds.

  • The farm worker bill and Title IV funding including Pell Grants and loans are how the organization operates.
  • CET must graduate 60 percent of students and place 70 percent in order to be compliant with the government.
  • Job assistance is offered for life as well as “retooling” or upgrading skills.
  • There is a new bilingual representative and the program has ESL classes.
  • There is open enrollment.
  • Training is designed ages 17 1/2 and older.