Some Las Vegas casino workers seeking new careers in the trades

Monday 28th December 2020

Wade Vandervort

EPA Universal Certified graduate Chris Cole is interviewed at the National Technical Institute in Henderson, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020.

By Bryan Horwath (contact)

Monday, Dec. 28, 2020 | 2 a.m.

Working as a craps dealer at Park MGM for the past 15 years, Chris Cole has enjoyed meeting new people and making friends.

National Technical Institute Launch slideshow "

"I've met people from all over the world," Cole said. "I've had people from all over texting me throughout the pandemic asking about me and if I was back at work."

His answer was not encouraging. Cole was furloughed for seven months and is now back to dealing only part-time.

The break, however, gave Cole, 50, time to ponder his future, and he decided it was time to embark on a new career path.

Cole recently completed a three-month program at the National Technical Institute in Henderson to become a heating and air conditioning technician.

He is now looking for a job in a field where he could earn close to a six-figure salary.

"At the start of all this, I wasn't worried about my job," Cole said. "I kept thinking I was only going to be out of work for a month or two, but it got to the point where I figured it was time to go back to school."

Chris Roth, CEO and owner of NTI, said the school has experienced significant growth this year, with enrollment up about 50% over the past seven months.

"We've seen a lot of people wanting to transition out of the hospitality industry," Roth said. "It's been skewing heavily that way since the shutdowns began."

Casinos were ordered closed for more than two months starting in mid-March to help curb the spread of the virus. Many remain closed or are operating at a reduced capacity.

Cole said he'd like to continue working as a part-time dealer, but he thinks it will be a long time before business on the Strip returns to what it was before the pandemic.

"This city is so dependent on not just gaming, but live shows, live sports, the nightclub aspect," he said. "Without those things, Las Vegas is struggling, to say the least."

Rich Horwitz, director of admissions at NTI, said there are a lot of opportunities right now for people in the trades, including plumbers and electricians.

Heating and air companies are having trouble hiring enough skilled technicians, he said. "The job market is hot," he said.

During a recent tour of NTI's Henderson facility, Horwitz pointed to photos of some graduates: a former landscaper, a cook at a Strip eatery and the general manager of a restaurant.

It's possible for heating and air technicians to make over $100,000 a year after a couple years of experience, Horwitz said. The cost of the training program is less than $10,000.

"Especially for people who were working in the service industry or in retail, it can be life-changing," Horwitz said. "Some people come from making minimum wage, or close to it, to making $70,000 per year pretty quickly."

Jose Enrico Bustamante, who works a security job at a Strip resort, recently enrolled in the HVAC program at NTI. He said he can work for somebody else or perhaps start his own company someday.

"I'll have a skillset that nobody will be able to take away from me," he said.

In November,the College of Southern Nevada announced a partnership with Workforce Connections, Southern Nevada's workforce development board, to establish four career hubs for displaced workers looking to receive training.

CSN offers degrees and certificates in fields from automotive technology to bricklaying, casino management, computers and nursing.

CSN is also offering new programs in software development, which it cites as one of the "most in-demand local occupations."

The school this year announced a partnership with information technology company Promineo Tech to offer 18-week online coding bootcamps.

Crystal Naegle, department chair for the applied technologies program at CSN, said there is "lots of interest in the trades due to the high unemployment rate and COVID-19."

Cole said he decided to get retraining because "having security is important to me right now...I'm excited about my future."

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