Making a New Start
These Delawareans successfully retrained for a new career.
“Being an employer,” says Matt Minor, owner of Wilmington-based Subcool Heating and Air, “is kind of like being a psychologist.”
Minor grew up in North and East Wilmington in the 1980s. He saw firsthand what crack and heroin did to those communities. And, he got wrapped up in it himself, eventually serving 10 years in federal prison for drug trafficking. With that time behind him, Minor made a big change in his life — he lobbied his counselor, and then his counselor’s supervisor at the Delaware Department of Labor, to fund his training in HVAC. Then, he lobbied the Delaware Skills Center — a Division of the New Castle County Vocational Technical School District — to give him a chance.
“I used to get in trouble, I used to be in the streets, so I went to the skills center. They were a little hesitant about taking me, because I had just come from federal prison,” Minor says. “But they took me. I went through their program, did really well in their program, and started my own HVAC and plumbing company.”
Today, after four years in business for himself, Minor employs anywhere from seven to 12 people at a time, depending on how many projects he has going, and he makes a point of hiring graduates from the Delaware Skills Center, the Dawn Career Institute in Newark, and other similar training hubs, with a focus on students from historically underserved communities.
“We have a population, especially here in Wilmington, where the manufacturing base left years ago and drugs came into the neighborhoods, so we have a bunch of younger people— young men especially — whose only option really is music, sports or drugs,” Minor says. “And you know there’s not many making it in sports or music, so we have this huge population that end up in the prisons.”
The psychologist part of being a boss, Minor says, comes into play when he acts as mentor to his employees. He has steered a few toward drug counseling, and he offers use of an old company van for those who don’t otherwise have transportation. Basically, he keeps an eye on them. Drug use, he says, is not uncommon in the trades, where workers can get injured and wind up on prescription medication. “It’s not a high instance. I have some great employees that have no history of using drugs,” Minor notes, “but there is a likelihood that one in 10 or one in 20, they bring some baggage.”
Having successfully changed his own life — through self-advocacy, training and business acumen — Minor is not shy in discussing his path. “I always tell people — I told them at the graduation at the skills center — if I can do it, anybody can do it, because there’s nothing special about me,” he says. “I guess maybe there are some people who look forward to being in jail, but I can testify that it’s not a great place and it’s not a place I’d ever want to go again, and one thing it makes you realize — well, it should make you realize — is that you’re doing something really, really wrong, and it’s not working. That’s the realization that I came to, along with the fact thatI have children and I have to leave a legacy, and my legacy can’t be one of ‘I did time.’ That’s not the legacy that I want to leave.”
During COVID, Margaret Sloan spent a lot of time at home in Milford with her husband. They had retired there in 2014; he’d been a police officer in Baltimore City, and she’d been a stationary engineer for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. She’d taken a job at the Hallmark store, but had been laid off when the pandemic hit.
“We were retired and we were just sitting around and, in the end, it wasn’t for me at this time in my life,” Sloan says. She saw an opening for the Certified Clinical Medical Administrative Assistant training program through the Workforce Development and Community Education Division at Delaware Technical Community College and jumped at the chance. “I was not even sure if I would be able to get into the course, but I did, and it was exciting. It was a lot of work — total career change,” Sloan says. “I never expected to start working again in a career job, but I did.”
As classes were about to start inNovember 2020, Sloan had emergency surgery. Still, she showed up for orientation two days later. “I wasn’t going to let anything stop me from getting into this program,” she says. “It was a lot of long nights — very long nights.” The first phase of the course focused on medical administrative assistant training; after Christmas, it shifted into clinical instruction. Then, Sloan passed national exams in both areas.
By the second day of her clinical rotation at Clinic by the Sea in Lewes, she was offered a job. Now, Sloan, 58, works full-time at the cardio-vascular clinic. “Most of it,” she says, “is running patients all day, interviewing them about their concerns.” She also conducts electrocardiogram (EKG) tests, takes vital signs, synthesizes hospital records and lab reports into patient charts, administers international normalized ratio (INR) tests to gauge blood thickness, and sets up Holter monitors — essentially a portable EKG machine that a patient wears for a few days at a time.
“I enjoy helping the patients. I enjoy meeting new people,” Sloan says. “And even going through school, it was really nice being part of that little team that we had — it was a small class, but we all made friends. A lot of work, but we also had a lot of fun times as well. We had a great instructor. Everyone from Del Tech was great.”
For Sloan, tuition and books were free once she passed an entrance exam. The schooling and the work have been a great antidote to the uncertainty and boredom that came along with the pandemic, she notes. And, she’s feeling energized by her new career, which — in terms of the type of work —is a huge departure from her previous one, where she was responsible for maintenance and operation of boilers, air-conditioners, and other aspects of the physical plant at public schools.
“I’m thinking, I must be nuts at my age, getting into another career, but it has its rewards, just going in there and meeting the people. The patients are great. And it’s not always standing, it’s not always sitting, it’s a little bit of both,” Sloan says. “If there’s anybody out there that may think they can’t do this, they need to know that they can, no matter what their age is. I’ve always wanted to be in the medical field, but never had the time or the money to afford it, and this was my chance, and I came out on top, so it’s a very rewarding experience.”
Phil Pieretti wanted a career change, and he got one. He went from sitting behind a bank of four computer monitors, making trades in the energy market, to sitting — part of the day, at least — in a noisy job site trailer at the DuPont Experimental Station.
“It was exactly what I was looking for,” Pieretti says. He’d focused on finance at Penn State, gone straight to work as a day trader, and then found, after four years, that he was in the wrong line of work.
“I may have focused a little too much on how much money I could make rather than how much I would enjoy what I do,” Pieretti says. “The job was interesting to an extent, but at the end of the day, all you would show for it was how much money you made or how much money you lost. There’s no material part of it. In construction, you see what you work on, you see the end result, the product that you and your team worked towards. And I was missing that in the finance career.”
So, at a small desk in the noisy trailer on the job site, he essentially went back to school, spending two and a half years learning the ropes as an electrical estimator for M. Davis & Sons.
“I didn’t come from an electrical background or anything like that,” Pieretti says, “so you’re not only learning the technical aspect of it — amps, volts, wire, conduit — it’s also the project management side, making sure you’re profitable on the job. It’s been a big learning curve, no doubt, but it’s been good.”
That first job involved a major addition and a renovation on an existing building. Pieretti, 30, notes that he recently drove past the site on Route 141, along with his wife, Christine, and their young son, Charlie. “When that hard work and effort pays off and you see the end result, that makes it all worth it,” Pieretti says. “You think to yourself, all the time and effort, all the minute details, the day to day — it’s a lot, and you appreciate the blood, sweat and tears that went into it.”
Between his time in finance and the switch to electrical estimating, Pieretti tried his hand at brewing —but found his hobby was not going to translate into a steady living. Then, he connected to M. Davis through a friend who works there. Pieretti says he enjoys the variety of his work now. Any given day might find him reviewing are quest for proposals; reading drawings, specifications or the written scope of work for potential projects; meeting with customers; visiting job sites; or crunching cost numbers.
Having been at M. Davis for three and a half years, Pieretti says he made the right call to change careers. “It’s hard to walk away from the money. A lot of those finance jobs pay very well, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to think about what’s most important for you.”