Boynton Beach Graduate Emerges From Pandemic Layoff with New Career

In the nearly two decades since Derrick Dixon quit high school to work more hours to support his family, he said he rarely considered going back to school – to get his high school diploma or to get specialized training in a career.

Why bother, he thought. He had found a comfortable niche working in warehousing, a job which paid the bills and provided him with what he thought was good job security. But then, as we all know, COVID-19 changed the world.

“When the pandemic hit, the place where I was working ended up closing their doors for good,” Derrick said. “I was at a standstill, and I felt like I didn’t have any options. I didn’t have my high school diploma, and I knew that meant I wasn’t going to get a decent job anywhere.”

So, for the first time since he attended high school, Derrick decided to take this opportunity to focus on advancing his education. Within 10 days of losing his job, he enrolled in the HVAC Program at Florida Career College (FCC) in Boynton Beach.

The decision to enroll, Derrick said, felt like a giant leap of faith at that moment. But, he knew it was a leap he had to make … and it paid off.

“When I signed up for school, everything was going downhill for me,” he said. “I was almost homeless, I had no income coming in … everything negative was trying to keep me from doing something positive. But, the people at FCC helped push me through it.”

Early this year, Derrick graduated from the HVAC program, earned his high school diploma and, after overcoming some early interview struggles, secured a full-time position with a Boynton Beach-area air conditioning company.

“If the people at [FCC] hadn’t pushed me to my limit, I’d have never made it through,” Derrick said. “I’m thankful they had confidence in me.”

Seeking a New Career Path

Derrick said when looking back on his life and career, he realizes how little he actually focused on himself through the years.

“I had people always wanting something from me,” he said. “I never had anyone take the time out and ask what I really wanted in life until I went to Florida Career College.”

While visiting the Boynton Beach campus for the first time and speaking with faculty and Admission Professionals, Derrick said he learned that developing a long-term career path was his highest priority. And, living in Florida, HVAC seemed like a stable career choice.

“Everyone in Florida needs AC,” Derrick said with a laugh.

But, Derrick admits that going back to school was a difficult adjustment. At the age of 37, he hadn’t stepped foot in a classroom in 20 years, and so getting through school – especially early on – required a lot of support and encouragement from his instructors and other members within the education team.

This included help with school work as well as simply helping him find ways to get to school when he didn’t think he could make it that day.

“It’s the encouragement… all the little things I’m grateful for,” he said. “They made me realize it’s going to get better. It’s the encouragement and the push. I appreciate everything all the faculty did for me to make me who I am today.”

Small Sacrifices Pay Huge Dividends

Derrick said FCC Career Services Specialist Arleen Feliciano stepped up big by dedicating a lot of time to help him prepare for life after graduation. In particular, she gave Derrick mock interviews upwards of twice a week to increase his chances of earning a full-time position while easing his anxiety about the process.

“We worked a lot on speaking and dressing accordingly for the job that you want, and basically just being who you are and being honest with people,” Derrick said. “She made sure that I was doing what I needed to do when I go to job interviews to show that I’m qualified and to represent the school positively.”

“Derrick was very receptive and dedicated to the process,” Arleen said. “He never became discouraged. He knew what he needed to do in order to achieve his goals, and he did it. I’m proud of him.”

Despite all this preparation, however, Derrick still struggled out of the gate. None of his first four job interviews led to an offer, leading Derrick to conclude that he needed to upgrade his wardrobe. Problem was, he didn’t have the budget to buy new clothes.

So, to invest in his future, he sold his PlayStation 4 and used that money to buy a new suit. In turn, he was hired at the very next interview.

“We are very proud of Derrick for his determination to pursue a career in the HVAC trade,” said Aaron Morris, Executive Director at FCC Boynton Beach. “He is one example of the many students who have turned to education at FCC after a job loss during the pandemic.”

Today, Derrick works as an HVAC Technician Apprentice for a local air-conditioning company, with aspirations of becoming an installer once he learns the ins and outs of the trade. It’s a career path, he said, that could have never materialized without the assistance and education he received at Florida Career College.

“If you had asked me 10 or 15 years ago if I was going back to school, I’d have said no,” Derrick said. “But now, sometimes I think God put me here for a reason – to force me to go back to school to better myself. Now, looking back, I can’t believe what I accomplished.”