COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Google and Columbus State Community College graduated the first class of 14 in the STAR Skilled Trades and Readiness program Wednesday night.

Google is partnered with Columbus State and several central Ohio construction businesses to conduct this five-week crash course ending with a full-time job for participants.

“It’s a team and community effort and that’s what makes it special,” Google Regional Lead for Workforce Development Wendy Peterson said.

At the crux, the program is made to funnel skilled workers into roles that are building the new Google data center in New Albany. 

When the data center was announced, Peterson said it can be a challenge to fill holes in the workforce, but there’s been plenty of help in central Ohio. 

“You think, ‘Oh, I have to come in, I have to create a new program. I have to do something that nobody’s ever done before,’ but there are great training programs right here in Columbus and at Columbus State Community College,” Peterson said. “They have the faculty, they have the knowledge, they have connections.”

STAR took applications from prospective candidates, conducted pre-interviews, and chose participants for the course. Each student was paid $15/hour for five weeks as they studied full-time to become a skilled trade worker. Electrical, plumbing, carpentry, and other construction trades were taught during the course.

Kelly Lee is one of the graduates entering a new full-time position as a pre-apprentice in carpentry. She also finds herself with a brand-new career.

“I’ve always wanted to be a carpenter, but life started ‘lifing.’ I had five children and had to raise them. It opened up my hidden passion that I’ve always had my whole entire life. Secondly, it has introduced me to some awesome people. I thought I couldn’t do it because I’m of age, you know? I’ve raised five children; I have 17 grandkids,” Lee explained with a smile right before she walked across the stage Wednesday night.

At 57 years old, Lee was the oldest participant in a group of mostly 20-somethings, but she saw this as a “can’t miss” opportunity.

“I thought my dreams were crushed and crashed and over with, kaboom,” she said. “But that’s not true. Because dreams can be realized no matter how old you are.”

She’s going to work for Holder Construction next. 

Lee found the STAR program after building a relationship with an Ohio Means Jobs representative who introduced her to Holder Construction. That relationship led to applying for the program.

Down the road, Lee hopes to have her own YouTube channel making videos for elderly people who want to stay active and work with their hands.

“Show older people how to build things. How to build patios and shelving. You can do it,” she said.

“Whatever your passion is, and I don’t care if you’re 18 or 80, if it’s something that you always wanted to do, step into it,” Lee added. “You can do it. I’m doing it. And if I can do it, anybody can do it.”

Peterson points to the growth in central Ohio as a call for more workers. 

“It’s been blowing up for a while and we need more people in the skilled trades,” she said.

Google and Columbus State plan to continue the STAR program next year.