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Need a mid-career change? Consider high-tech options

It isn’t unusual these days for someone with a degree from a four-year college or even a master’s degree to be enrolled in technical training courses that prepare students for a new high-tech careers.

“Reverse transfer is what we call it,” says Dr. Debra West, director of post-secondary career and technical education for the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges. “People come back in to pick up a skill on two-year program or certificate. That is a trend that is growing across the country right now because the primary growth in the job sector is for skilled labor. It used to be students could go to high school, get out, get a job and do pretty well. But now most jobs are requiring increased skills. The federal government defines skilled labor as some type of training beyond high school. That is the segment of the economy that is growing.”

A competitive edge?

Tech training makes sense for people who want to compete in the new economy.

“Oftentimes people get out with a history degree or an English degree and find they can’t get a job,” West says. “They come back to look for skills that will provide them with an avenue for supporting their families.”

“We try to have 100% placement in all of our programs,” says Dr. Joy Jenkins, assistant dean of career and technical education, Hinds Community College, Raymond campus. “Most of the jobs the students can start off making at least $30,000 entry level. A lot of them are higher than that. That is the average.”

Jenkins says the college gets calls every day from people who have been displaced from their jobs and want to enroll in career technical programs. Some of the more popular programs include allied health, automotive technology, avionics, barbering, biomedical technology, computer programming, computer networking, heating and air conditioning, graphic design, electrical, electronics, welding and auto body. Court reporting is also popular as the Raymond campus currently has the only court reporting program in the state.

Worker friendly

Some students are enrolled in tech training who have more than one four-year degree, and there are even students with a master’s degree. The course offerings are designed to be friendly to people already in the workforce. For example, there is a hybrid program where classes are offered every eight weeks

“We are offering alternative scheduling,” Jenkins says. “We have a fast track program in business and office technology where you can finish a certificate program in one year by coming to class in the afternoon after work. Each class is an eight-week block.”

Financial assistance including grants and loans are available for most students. And job placement programs often have students landing a job soon after graduation.
Courses can be tailor made to meet the needs of existing businesses and industry.

Meeting needs

“All we need to know is there is a demand, and we will get a program to meet the need,” Jenkins said. “We have an open door policy and encourage local businesses to come out and visit us whether looking for people to be trained or if they want to hire our graduates. We want to hear from them.”

Jenkins says when she graduated from high school, she didn’t even know about technical training programs. Now in today’s environment when advanced training is needed for an increasing number of jobs, the tech training programs make good sense.

Mitch Stennett, president, Economic Development Authority (EDA) of Jones County, says more should be done to encourage high school students to consider tech degrees.

“We should turn what was once a stereotypical ‘stigma’ of being called ‘vocational training’ into a much-applauded technical training issue and emphasize that some of the technical jobs taken by two-year degree students pay as much as some of the four-year university-degreed jobs,” Stennett says. “I have heard of some people who went to Jones County Junior College to get their Cisco certification after they received four-year degrees.”

Stennett says technical training, whether it is employees who want to upgrade their technical skills and go back to the company at which they’re employed or people getting ready to enter the job market, is vital to local industries. It is common for industrial prospects to ask the EDA to determine the number of technically-trained two-year graduates that have specific skills in order to know labor availability for their type business.

Dr. Larry Day, associate executive director for accountability and technology, State Board for Community and Junior Colleges, says it is still a challenge to get the general population to embrace the fact that the career (vocational) and technical program offerings at the state’s 15 community and junior colleges are viable options to assist many to become productive, tax-paying citizens. The community and junior colleges offer more than 120 unique career and technical programs.

“Since the first Mississippi public two-year college was created by legislation in 1922 and subsequently became the first public two-year college system in 1928, this challenge has remained a matter of contention in various forms,” Day says. “Nevertheless, our unwavering commitment and devotion to provide quality higher education in Mississippi is beginning to make an impact.”

Day says it isn’t unusual to have non-traditional students (over the age of 22) enrolled in their career and technical programs. In fact, approximately 43% of all students enrolled in their career and technical programs are over 25 years of age. The average age of the student population is approximately 26.

“We are finding many individuals with earned degrees are returning to our community and junior colleges and seeking admission into allied health and other high demand career and technical programs,” Day says. “Some are seeking new careers while others are positioning themselves make advancements in an existing career.”

As a coordinating board, one of its responsibilities is to set standards for the 15 community and junior colleges. Day says with regards to career and technical programs, it makes sure that each approved career and technical is taught from a uniform curriculum that is developed by staff, program instructors and industry representatives utilizing the Research & Curriculum Unit at Mississippi State University.

“Our goal and responsibility is to ensure program consistency throughout the state,” Day says. “As a result, an employer can expect similar skill level and conceptual understanding from any of our graduates in radiologic technology, for example, whether they graduated from one of our community college in southern part of the state or from the northern part of the state.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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