Unemployment lines continue to grow and college graduates face a tight job market, while the auto industry is
struggling to meet the demand for service technicians with the advanced skills needed to repair sophisticated vehicles.
At the same time workers in many fields are facing layoffs, more than 60,000 automotive service jobs in the United States are going unfilled, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which predicts the number of new jobs in the field will increase to 150,000 by the end of this decade.
And, oh yes, some automakers are offering starting salaries of $50,000 to graduates of service technician training programs. After on-the-job experience, salaries for skilled grease monkeys go as high as $100,000 per year in some parts of the country.
"Rocket science isn't for everyone. There are plenty of well-paid occupational professions out there and plenty of jobs available," reports Judy Pautler, dean of the School of Health Sciences and Public Service at San Diego Mesa College.
Better Than a BA
Jobs for workers with vocation technical degrees and/or certification of professional competency rose by 6 percent from January 2001 to January 2002, while employment dropped for those with bachelor's degrees, according to a report by Bankrate.com. Jobs requiring vocational certification or an associate's degree, which can be earned at a community college, are projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to grow 32 percent by 2010 - faster than any other category of employment.
Salaries for tool-and-die makers range from $50,000 to $100,000 per year and industrial electricians earn from $75,000 to $125,000 annually, to name just two well-paid occupations that don't require college degrees.
Community colleges offer certification, two-year-degree and training programs that prepare graduates for jobs in a wide variety of fields, including fashion design, interior design, health services, veterinary services, information technology, child care, food service and more.
Fast and Affordable
"This is what used to be called vocational training. Today we call it professional occupational training," explains John Nunes, a spokesman for Mesa College, which offers nearly 60 such programs, some of which can be completed within a few months. The cost is only $11 per unit, as compared to at least five times that much at state colleges.
Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, NC, is authorized by that state to conduct licensing and certification courses in a variety of fields. Forsyth has programs for health and emergency service occupations (including emergency medical technicians, paramedics, nursing assistants, nursing care management and personal-care aides for adult-care homes) and industrial technology (including forklift operators, construction trades, welding, hazardous waste management, machine tooling, tool-and-die making, diesel mechanics, air pollution control and auto service technicians). It also offers courses for insurance adjusters, code inspectors, notaries, real-estate brokers and real-estate sales agents.
While a recent study of high school sophomores indicated that 95 percent planned to attend college, a report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education reveals that by 2006, 43 percent of college graduates will fail to find jobs requiring their degree. The center also reported that the second- and third-highest paying occupational groups require skills training but usually no university degree.
In the fast-moving information technology field, a recent study by the Applied Information Management Institute indicated that half the students who enrolled in IT skills programs at community colleges, technical colleges and trade schools already had one or more college degrees.
Need a Tune Up?
"Community colleges [and trade schools] are a good way to tune up your skills for today's job market," advises Damian Birkel, founder of the Professionals in Transition Support Group in North Carolina.
For recent high school graduates who haven't made up their minds about a career path, community colleges are an inexpensive way to explore possible areas of interest and to train for a vocation, suggests Otto Lee, dean of the School of Business and Computer Studies at Mesa College.
"Community college computer-technology programs are also useful for re-entry workers who need to update their office technology skills," Lee adds.
In the popular Mesa College multimedia computer program, students learn to design websites, fancy graphics and even video games. The college's Microsoft certification course, leading to certification as a Microsoft systems engineer, is another example of a program that paves the way for greater employment opportunities.
Although programs in community colleges and so-called trade schools tend to be shorter than those at four-year colleges, they are no less thorough in the disciplines they teach. The interior design program at Mesa College, for example, leads to an Associate in Arts degree after 60 units of study. Students learn manual and computer drafting, space planning, meeting technical specifications for flooring and other materials, complying with building codes, decorative arts and more. The two-year course prepares a graduate to work as an assistant in a design studio, as a sales associate in a commercial furniture showroom (where they might earn $60,000 a year) or as a kitchen designer in a venue like Home Depot Expo.
"Completing the interior design course allows graduates to sit for a licensing exam after four years of work experience," according to Mimi Moore, head of the interior design program at Mesa College.
Many community colleges provide training in the hospitality industry, which can lead to management positions in hotels, motels, resorts, and in food service. Culinary courses go beyond how to cut a carrot and include how to run a restaurant, plan a menu, dress up a plate and, oh yes, prepare a meal.
Healthcare assisting is another hot employment market in which trade school or community college training can provide the needed credentials to land a job.
These websites can provide more information on vocational training opportunities:
- California-Colleges-Universities.org - A directory of colleges, schools and universities offering either academic or vocational programs in California.
- Colleges-Degrees-Searches-Online.org - Select a state from the drop-down box for a list of colleges, vocational and trade schools, and universities.
- Trade-School.org - A large network of fully accredited colleges and universities specializing in training individuals for careers in design, technology, business, culinary arts, automotive service, and photography. Plus links to other educational resources.
- Trade-Schools.net - A national directory of universities, colleges and trade schools categorized by location and vocation.