The engineering technology program at Holmes Community College has a goal of placing 85% of its graduates who aren’t continuing on to a four-year college into jobs. But, in fact, that placement rate is usually 100% for graduates who want to immediately enter the workforce.
“We don’t have enough people to fill the jobs that we have calls coming in for,” said Wayne Watkins, director of technical programs for Holmes Community College’s Ridgeland campus. “It is a very diverse department. We are even doing some training for automotive industry people for blueprint reading and computer-assisted drafting (CAD).”
Watkins believes that throughout the state, students and parents aren’t aware of the good job prospects for graduates with two-year degrees, in general — not just the engineering technology degree.
“The problem is everyone is going after four-year degrees, yet a lot of people who graduate can’t get jobs,” Watkins said. “People with two-year degrees are doing spectacular. The community colleges are always the best bang for the buck when you look at how much we spend for community colleges and how much we spend on other education resources.”
Lynn Boykin, an engineering technology instructor at Holmes, sees a lot of students with a bachelor of fine arts degrees who weren’t able to get a job.
“We find a lot of fine arts people come back to school here because they can make a living doing this, and have their art as a second career or hobby,” Boykin said.
‘Pretty consistent demand’ for grads
Approximately half of the graduates of the program go on to a four-year college — generally, the University of Southern Mississippi or Mississippi State — to complete a degree in engineering or construction technology. And half go into the workforce. Few have difficulty finding jobs.
“I got a phone call this morning from someone who wanted to hire two people full time, and all the graduates I had in December are already at work,” Boykin said. “We have a pretty consistent demand. The spectrum of potential jobs is enormous. If they don’t want to do residential design like houses, they might like drawing gears for automobiles. We have some graduates who want to be in fashion design, landscape architecture or interior design. So it isn’t just architecture. They are here learning basic skills so they can go right to work, or continue on to a four-year school.”
Boykin points out to prospective students that everything you see in your environment had to be drawn by someone before it was manufactured. So, if drawing is appealing, the two-year degree program allows you to learn some basic skills, and then specialize in the area of greatest interest.
Graduates are known as engineering technologists or CAD operators. There are four different programs offered under the engineering technology program at Holmes: architectural engineering technology, construction engineering technology, industrial engineering technology and drafting and design technology. Courses taught in the programs include CAD, construction materials, civil drafting, architectural design, cost estimating, structural drafting, architectural rendering and computational methods for drafting.
A new trend in CAD is three-dimensional (3D) drawings.
“We have gotten some of the new 3D CAD programs, and right now are testing them in classrooms to see how user friendly they are,” Boykin said. “Until now, it has been a complicated task to draw in 3D. It is very cumbersome. The software is starting to get more user friendly, though it has a long way to go. In the next five years, we will see almost everything drawn in 3D.”
Delivering instruction online
Enrollment in the programs at Holmes Community College averages between 150 and 200. While approximately 70% of the students are male, the program is attracting an increasing number of females.
“Women are so good with details and this can make a great career path for them,” Boykin said. “We find the women who do come to the program are extremely successful, by and large.”
A trend currently being seen is the increasing popularity of online courses. Boykin, who has developed and teaches online classes for the Mississippi Virtual Community College, said online students are typically adults looking for second career options who are usually very motivated and successful.
“Online classes are becoming a great method of education for those of us who have busy lives with children or whatever else we have going on,” Boykin said. “Right now, I’m working on a master’s degree in online education. I don’t want to get in a car and drive somewhere at night. We’re also finding that students right out of high school are also taking a lot of online classes. If they don’t like an 8 o’clock class, they can take it whenever they want.”
Night classes are also popular. Boykin said they have an entire student body that only wants to come at night.
To let potential students know about the engineering technology program, once per semester Holmes hosts Engineering Day where potential students are invited to come and spend a half-day on campus. They are matched with a current student at a computer creating CAD drawings. They also hear from an architect or engineer invited in to talk about their jobs.
Students are given information on how much education they need, starting salaries and job prospects.
“Engineering Day is a wonderful resource for these students,” Boykin said.
Even while attending school, students can get good paying jobs in the range of $10 to $15 hour.
“I put myself through school delivering pizza,” Boykin said. “I would have much rather had been employed at $15 per hour.”
Other two-year degree offerings in the state related to engineering include a construction engineering program at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and construction engineering and civil engineering programs at Northeast Community College in Booneville.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org.