Hershey: From candy to computers

Ramona Lemos and Sonia Flores each spent 27 years working at the Hershey Co. plant in Oakdale. Now they're working side by side on a different task: learning how to type.

They are enrolled in a business administration training course at the Central Valley Opportunity Center in Modesto, a community-based organization that received funding from a state grant to retrain Hershey workers.

The CVOC has enrolled 26 former Hershey workers in classes since layoffs were initiated last year, retraining them to work in computers, retail sales, welding, medical and dental assisting, and other fields, said director Jorge De Nava Jr.

Lemos, 47, was laid off in July. She said she was initially depressed over losing her job and took about four months off to recuperate. When she started looking for work, she realized she needed to update her skills.

"We were at Hershey so long that we didn't have any knowledge in things like computers," she said. "It was time to get an education."

Flores, 52, was earning $21 an hour when she was laid off from Hershey in September. She said she knows that it will be difficult to find a comparable wage but hopes with her retraining she can find work in dispatching or in an office.

Both say they are ready to move forward with their lives.

"We knew (the closing) was coming for a while because you could see the signs, so people were pretty much prepared," Flores said. "There's other things out there."

-- Christina Salerno