Trading on a Good Education
Jul 31, 2018 02:20PM ● Published by Jennifer Monahan
A.W. Beattie Career Center
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The most recent information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics has unemployment in the Pittsburgh region at 4.1 percent—the lowest unemployment in a decade. While job prospects are looking good for many, graduates of career and technical education (CTE) programs are in especially high demand.
CTE institutions, sometimes known as career or vocational training centers or career-focused colleges, offer students both academic and hands-on technical training in a variety of fields and industries. Nationally, over 12 million students are enrolled in CTE programs at both the high school and post-secondary levels. Locally, CTE high schools and colleges have much to offer 21st century learners.
A.W. Beattie Career Center in Allison Park accepts high school students in grades 10-12. Hanna Gibson, a 2017 graduate of both Hampton High School and A.W. Beattie Career Center, studied Carpentry/Building Construction in addition to her core high school curriculum. Now enrolled at Pennsylvania College of Technology in a four-year degree program for residential construction management, Gibson said the technical training she received at Beattie has been instrumental to her success in college.
“The timeframe—having longer classes—was good preparation for college,” Gibson explained. The biggest benefit, she said, was that she had the opportunity in high school to practice and master hands-on technical skills needed for her college program. While some of her peers are learning skills for the first time, Gibson explained, “Instead of concentrating on the basics, I can focus on how and why things work.”
Beattie offers 20 programs ranging from Emergency Response Technology to Automotive Technology to Health and Nursing Sciences to Computer Systems/Network Engineering/Cyber Security. Executive Director Eric Heasley said that students benefit from CTE because they have the opportunity to earn college credit while in high school and also get a jump on earning the industry certifications that many employers seek.
Heasley added that Beattie’s enrollment is up in recent years. He cited increased exposure to CTE programs for younger students, increased demand for workers across a variety of trades, and the high cost of post-secondary education as contributing factors. The need is so great for skilled workers, he said, that high school students enrolled in programs like Carpentry/Building Construction or Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning programs are often able to secure summer jobs in their fields.
Gibson said the high school training students receive through CTE gives them more than just a leg up on the competition. “Even if students are interested in a field but don’t ultimately want to do it full-time, you can still get a skill and use it to work your way through college studying something else,” Gibson said. “And it gives you a fallback if you ever need it; you always have that skill.”
At the college level, CTE programs are an opportunity to get involved in a career-immersive, focused education, explained Doug Cerminara, director of admissions for Pittsburgh Technical College (PTC) in Oakdale. While PTC offers students many of the same extracurricular opportunities available at traditional four-year colleges, the institution is unique in its focus on hands-on technical and practical learning. For example, every student who receives an associate or bachelor’s degree will complete an internship or clinical rotation before graduating.
Linda Allan, director of marketing and public relations, said PTC also works closely with its advisory board members to ensure courses are responding to industry needs.
PTC’s practical approach yields results for its graduates. Two-thirds of students who complete internships accept job offers from those employers, and PTC has a 97 percent placement rate for graduates. Both enrollment in many of PTC’s 35 programs and employer demand for its graduates are up, Cerminara said, particularly for those with degrees in Computer Aided Design (CAD) and other computer and technology areas.
“The number of employers seeking graduates with CAD degrees is so high, we don’t graduate enough students to meet the demand,” Allan added.
With its rolling admissions process, PTC works hard to accommodate the needs of both traditional and nontraditional students. While many students come straight from high school or CTE programs, a significant part of PTC’s population is comprised of older adults making a career change or seeking additional training to keep up with industry demands.
Rosedale Technical College (RTC) in Pittsburgh also caters to both traditional and adult learners. Angela Stansfield, marketing manager, said that students benefit from the intensive 16-month associate degree programs because they can get out into the workforce quickly.
Matt Linko, a 2012 graduate of RTC who earned a degree in Specialized Automotive Technology, took classes at night while working his way through school as an automotive technician during the day. Linko said his courses were helpful because they were so comprehensive.
“It was a very complete education in all areas of automotive technology,” Linko explained. “I learned so much and was able to apply it at work right away.”
Linko has seen firsthand how his degree and credentials helped him advance his career. After graduation, he was offered a position as a service manager overseeing other technicians, and then the opportunity to manage his own store. At the age of 24, Linko began teaching automotive classes at a technical college while also managing an auto repair facility. Today, he is a corporate trainer for Fram Group and travels all over the world holding seminars, creating training videos and serving as a brand ambassador for his employer.
Stansfield echoed other CTE administrators in citing excellent job opportunities for skilled technical workers across a variety of industries. One of RTC’s most in-demand credentials is the CDL license for truck drivers. Stansfield said many employers are either paying up front for their employees to take CDL classes, or will offer tuition reimbursement upon successful completion of the courses.
“All of our fields are in high demand,” Stansfield said. “We have five career fairs each year and do not have enough students to fill all the jobs that employers need.” She added that students may apply for admission at any time during the year.
Whatever the trade or technical industry, CTEs offer students the chance to get the specific education and training they need to advance their careers. Said Linko, “I have been able to do so many things because of my education at Rosedale that I never thought possible.”