CENTRAL VALLEY BUSINESS JOURNAL. FEBRUARY 28, 2013. Traditional university education isn’t for everybody. Some don’t want to spend the time or money on it, or they just aren’t interested in careers that require a college degree.
For many people, vocational or career technical education schools provide an attractive and affordable path to gainful employment.
Vocational schools are more popular than ever. According to the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities, “Private sector colleges and universities are providing over 4 million students annually with the education and skills necessary to be competitive in high demand occupations.”
One of the biggest advantages that vocational schools offer is job placement assistance.
“DeHart Technical School is directly tied to the industry we train in,” said Jeff Painter, director of DeHart Technical School in Modesto. The school and DeHart Plumbing, Heating and Air — a third generation-owned and operated HVAC/plumbing company in business since 1946 — are both owned by Rod DeHart.
“This gives the school resources not available to its competitors, such as industry manufacturer’s support, local support from industry suppliers, and networking with other local contractors in the industry,” Painter said. “We also offer career guidance and services to assist graduates in securing the right position after graduation. Over the last eight months, our current placement rate stands at 88 percent.”
DeHart also offers a unique concept of “lifetime education” — a graduate can return to the program any time to polish his or her skills or strengthen weak areas at no additional cost. Community Business College in Modesto also provides career training that incorporates intensive job placement assistance.
“Overall we have placed 87 percent of the students who have graduated within the last six months,” said Dan Guerra, director of Community Business College. “We are a small school so we spend more time helping each graduate find the work they want. We also help working graduates find another job if they aren’t happy in their current one.”
Vocational schools also offer a fasttrack education. By focusing only on the skills necessary for a specific job category, vocational programs can be shorter than traditional academic education.
“On the other hand, vocational institutions and academic schools are not mutually exclusive,” Guerra said. “We have had students who completed our training programs and have gone on to earn their academic degrees at Modesto Junior College, for example. Most of our students are people who have worked throughout their adult lives and are looking to either improve their skills in an industry in which they already have experience or are looking to transition into a new field.”
Vocational schools can also be less expensive than traditional university education.
“Those students receiving Title IV loan funding have debts that are never charged off, even in bankruptcy, and are aggressively pursued if graduates fall behind in payments,” Guerra said. “I have read quite a few news articles recently that predict the student loan bubble is the next big one to burst after the mortgage bubble. Unfortunately, that will include working people who are sincerely trying to pay off their student loans.”
Because vocational schools maintain close contact with the industries they serve, they can revise their curriculum as the job market evolves.
“With all of the changes regarding protection of our environment and the need for more energy efficient systems and machinery, the need for qualified employees is more in demand than ever,” said Painter. “The trend is toward energy efficiency and ‘green technology.’ This will require employees to be trained in areas such as weatherization, building auditing, solar and wind generation, and geothermal process.”
In response to employer demand, Community Business College has added official certification testing for computer software programs, as well as specific skills classes such as a basic Spanish course to enable students to become bilingual, which can be a big plus when they go job hunting.
“In the future we will explore more training opportunities in health care careers, especially in nursing and nursing assistants,” Guerra said. “We want to help more people get the help they need to pass GED exams by partnering with the Stanislaus Literacy Center and establishing a scholarship for people who earn their GEDs. We also are planning to bring a venture capital program to San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties to allow working adults to earn their bachelor’s degrees at no cost to them.”
Community Business College is currently working on a program that allows businesses to train their employees and be reimbursed for their efforts by the state of California, Guerra said.
“Employers have to meet certain criteria, but a lot of them find it’s a great way to maximize their training dollars and help incumbent employees improve their skills.”