ASHTABULA — Bruce Haytcher spent decades in area factories performing a variety of tasks, but when a massive layoff at the Erie General Electric plant hit in 2016 he chose a different pathway.
Many of the workers had the opportunity to retire early but Haytcher was at least a year away from that opportunity but was made aware of a provision in the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act.
The TAA provides opportunities for workers that were affected by companies that had jobs move overseas and Haytcher fell into that category.
“We had mass meetings when they told us our benefits,” he said of how he became aware of a program that included the Federal government paying for educational opportunities but only to find a job with a similar income.
Haytcher worked in the Geneva Coca Cola plant for many years after serving in the U.S. Navy, then almost nine years at the Conneaut General Electric Plant, which manufactured elements for the lightbulb base and then eight years at the General Electric locomotive facility in Erie.
Haytcher started on the paint line and eventually moved up to electrical panel repair for locomotives.
After reviewing a variety of options Haytcher decided to pursue an associates degree in diagnostic medical ultrasonography through a program at Great Lakes Institute of Technology in Erie.
After the March 2016 layoff Haytcher made his decision in May of that same year.
The biggest challenge would be getting back into the habit of studying.
“We had 35 people trying to get into a class of 15,” he said of the pre-class work needed to qualify for the program. He said four of the 35 were from General Electric and three decided to pursue the program and made it through to graduation.
Haytcher said he got out of the Navy in 1982 and took an electronics class in the spring of 1983.
He said the more than three decade gap presented some challenges.
“It was very hard for me,” Haytcher said. Many of the students were much younger than Haytcher but he did have the time advantage as many students were working while going through school. “I had the time but they were still in the learning mode,” Haytcher said.
“There were quite a few times (of doubt),” Haytcher said of his attempts to master organ pathology, medical technology and the spelling of difficult terms.
“Each week we had to learn new pathology for each organ,” Haytcher said. He also said he is not a good speller which was a problem when no misspellings were allowed.
“In my backpack I had a medical dictionary but unfortunately I couldn’t use that in tests,” Haytcher said.
The biggest challenge, however, was finding an externship to complete the program.
He said it was a mandatory component of the program and had to be completed to get the degree.
After searching for local opportunities Haytcher finally found a suitable opportunity; 480 miles away in Lake Placid, New York.
He spent nine months away from his family while working five days a week and studying most of the other two days each week. Haytcher said he would work from morning to late afternoon then go home and work on research papers needed to complete the course.
“I didn’t get paid but because of the program I am in they paid 5/7ths of my rent,” he said.
Haytcher said his love of learning helped see him through the program and the weather was challenging but not that bad.
“The snow is a little less than we get here but the temperatures got down to 27 below zero and 38 below with the windchill,” he said.
Haytcher said he communicated with his wife Lisa regularly through the magic of computers.
“My wife and I called on Skype almost every night. We stayed in touch that way,” he said.
Visits every month and a half helped make the time go by as well. He finished his externship on April 20 and received his diploma on April 23.
Haytcher was then able to retire from GE in late April and he is now looking for a job in his field; putting out resumes to hospitals throughout northeastern Ohio and northwestern Pennsylvania.
Studying is still a big part of his day as he must pass his boards in a variety of different areas of expertise.
“Usually a hospital will give you 12 months to pass your boards,” he said.