Tonda Westbury, Chief Deputy Clerk of Court, Finance
Dorchester County Government
Public Leadership Apprenticeship Program
Trident Technical College
Tonda loves the diversity in her workdays. If court is in session – typically two weeks out of a month – she may be working with guilty pleas and jury trials. If court is not in session, she may be handling bookkeeping, participating in a training session for debt collection, or helping with caseflow and troubleshooting. “I almost feel like I have two different jobs and two different workspaces that split the month for me,” she says. “I love both of them, and I love the difference in them.”
Apprenticeship Program Experience
In 2018, Dorchester County Government’s Human Resources Department presented the Public Leadership Apprenticeship program to employees within a specified pay grade who were in supervisory positions but did not hold a degree. For Tonda, there was no way to say no to this opportunity. By completing one course at a time over four years, she was able to balance her professional responsibilities while still pursuing her education. Her employer covered tuition costs and some book expenses while also offering payroll incentives for each year as long as she passed her classes and met her on-the-job training thresholds. “Participation in the Public Leadership Apprenticeship program was an easy yes for me from the beginning because of all the perks that Dorchester County provided.”
But the aid wasn’t financial only. Tonda praises the HR liaisons at Dorchester County Government, who were always quick to resolve any issues related to textbooks, curriculum or instructors. And Trident Tech’s seamless transition to virtual instruction and continued instructor availability during the COVID pandemic meant that Tonda and her peers didn’t miss critical learning opportunities.
Monthly meetings with a mentor provided students with knowledgeable and supportive professional guidance, and on-the-job tasks allowed them to learn the dynamics of the county – both how departments work together and how the county works with external organizations. In fact, Tonda was impressed by how readily and consistently she was able to apply her classroom and on-the-job training to her job. “The first course of the program was Principles of Management, and being able to study those principles in the textbook and then immediately apply them to my work solidified for me that participation in this program was the right decision,” she says. “And that just continued throughout all of the courses, throughout all four years.”
While the instructors, mentors and liaisons were instrumental to Tonda’s success in the program, she is especially grateful for the support of her family and co-workers. “My daughters really rallied behind me, tutoring me through a difficult math course and providing feedback on my papers,” she states. They also respected the time commitment required of the program, understanding when Tonda had to stay back and study rather than, say, going out or doing something else. Similarly, her co-workers provided encouraging words when she had an upcoming test and even threw her a party when she graduated. That’s the kind of all-around support that affirmed Tonda’s decision to participate in the apprenticeship program.
When Tonda graduated from the program, she earned both a national credential from the U.S. Department of Labor and an associate degree from Trident Technical College. She appreciates how the program honed her professional skills and augmented her ten years of experience with the Clerk of Court’s Office. And while she is content in her current position, she has not ruled out the possibility of pursuing a bachelor’s degree or digging deeper into human resources certification – an interest she discovered while participating in the program.
Advice to Someone Considering Apprenticeship
“Make the investment in yourself; it is so worth it!” she exclaims. “I now have an associate degree paid for by Dorchester County and am able to give that investment back to the organization. It’s a benefit for me personally and for my employer.” She also encourages prospective apprentices to not be dissuaded by the length of the program. “For me, there was a little bit of hesitation because this program was four years. But those four years flew by. I am so proud to be a graduate of the first group of Dorchester County’s Public Leadership Apprenticeship program!”