Worknet, Virtanza and University of the Pacific open a doorway to new opportunities.


Graduates of a new Professional Sales Certification course in San Joaquin County, CA, are quickly swept from their virtual classroom into the world of job interviewing. That’s what six graduates of the pilot workforce training are experiencing. It’s the result of a unique collaboration between Virtanza, The University of the Pacific, and the San Joaquin County Workforce Development Board/Worknet.

“It is rewarding to provide workforce development skills to those who need it in the greater Stockton area,” says Kristi Capra, Senior Program Developer for University of the Pacific.

The program prepares graduates to succeed in today’s technology-enabled sales environment. The objective is to place 70% of graduates in sales jobs with an average income of $50k within 120 days of graduation.


“This course has helped me to see what I can expect and what it will take for me to be competitive in the working selling world. It is comprehensive in scope and powerful,” says graduate Marvin East.

The program owes its existence to the commitment of two women: Belinda Petate Chan, Employment Training Supervisor for the San Joaquin County Worknet, and Debbie Holzkamp, CEO and founder of Virtanza.

Holzkamp was consulting with the Stockton Mayor’s Office in its efforts to craft a world-class career pipeline. The instructor-led online course she founded was ready to go for adult learners at University of the Pacific. Petate Chan happened to be at the table on the day Holzkamp presented facts about the need for qualified salespeople in the region and Virtanza’s ability to prepare people for them.

The challenge was reaching the right audience to enroll students.

 Petate Chan raised her hand, saying, “I can get students for you.”

In three short weeks, students for the training pilot had been recruited from Worknet’s clientele and enrolled in the course.  All had some prior sales experience. They wanted to upskill their approach or enhance their technical skills to be more competitive in the job market. “As a seasoned sales professional, the course helped me organize my sales approach,” says graduate Jennifer Bednarek. “It reminded me what I love about sales: connecting with my customer’s needs and problem-solving for them.”

She adds: “The organization of the sales steps and the personal insights were invaluable. I know what makes me tick and what makes me great. Now, with a clear direction, I can offer that to a company.”


A professional credential such as consultative sales certification places higher-level, better-paying jobs within reach of people who haven’t been able to apply for them before. Newly certified graduates go directly into a recruiting pipeline for major employers with whom Virtanza has relationships.

The course starts with a best-in-class sales aptitude assessment, the highly predictive Chally Sales Assessment, from GrowthPlay. Students learn their best match and aptitude for 13 different sales roles. “I was flabbergasted by my Chally results,” says graduate Bertha Vega. “I knew that I was capable of so much, but did not know how to put it into words . . . My Chally results gave me more confidence that a sales professional is what I want to be.”

The Virtanza curriculum includes real-life customer case studies. A series of progressively difficult role-play scenarios build students’ skills and confidence in developing and presenting sales proposals. The final sales proposal requires both a PowerPoint presentation and a written MS Word proposal. The PowerPoint is delivered to the group online and graded by the instructor.

“My biggest challenge was making the proposal,” Vega says. “But after I did my first proposal, it felt like second nature for me because I had learned the Virtanza selling process.”

Instructor Jim Hynes observed Vega grow over the course of the program and graded her formal proposal. It was stellar.  “Bertha’s proposal was lights-out!” is how he describes it.


Graduate Susan Perondi endorses this experiential learning aspect of the program: “Role-plays are always great to internalize the information so I can get it into my muscle memory,” she says.

Hynes and fellow instructors Debbie Holzkamp, Ann Kuga and Ibby Vores found the Worknet students focused, eager to learn and attentive. Students coached and supported each other.  Brought together by chance and shared circumstance, this community of six students exchanged phone numbers and met to partner on assignments.  When PowerPoint created a challenge for fellow students who had never used it, tech-savvy Reagan Macalino reached out. He helped another student with a complex job market and skill analysis exercise.  All felt free to reach out to their counterparts.

Kuga enjoyed the level of interaction in the online sessions she taught. “I really liked their questions,” she says. “It showed they were listening.” In a session about preparing for a job interviews, she adds, there was lively discussion as students shared their interview war stories.

A personal branding session taught by instructor Ibby Vores helped students upgrade their LinkedIn profiles to market themselves effectively as sales professionals. Graduate René Alcaraz credits the personal branding instruction and suggestions for spotlighting her Chally profile with boosting views on her LinkedIn account. Perondi was pleased to learn about many LinkedIn features she hadn’t known about.

The Professional Sales Certification class was held from June 3 to July 12.  After graduation, the action immediately switched to breaking into the job market. Participants were paired with instructors for resume refinement, practice interviews, and job-hunting advice. Alcaraz describes her revised resume as a “masterpiece.”

All six graduates are now interviewing with multiple employers including Anixter and ARC Document Solutions as well as prospects they’re identifying through Worknet or via online research and networking channels.

“Virtanza offers good support,” says Belinda Petate Chan. “Their relationships with employers mean that people get interviews right away and should be placed quickly.” Worknet offers additional incentives, such as subsidizing salaries, to encourage employers to hire Worknet clients.


The Professional Sales Certification Program is the first sales training effort for Worknet. The agency offers job training in a range of other industries, including agribusiness, health care, building construction, and logistics.

The University of the Pacific is the oldest chartered university in California. As part of its push to be a leading 21st-century institution of higher education, the University is exploring innovative educational programming. One of these is non-degree workforce education like Professional Sales Certification.

A variety of funding options for the Professional Sales Certification Program are available, through Worknet and by employers. The next sales course starts Oct. 14 and runs through Nov. 18. For information about enrolling and how your tuition might be eligible for funding, contact Belinda Petate Chan, Employment Training Supervisor, San Joaquin County Worknet, at (209) 468-3584.