A smart plan for landing today’s tech jobs

Recently, I attended a unique event in Effingham. The purpose of the event was to bring together manufacturers and educational institutions with the goal of aligning available jobs with school programs. Now, usually I take time in this column to focus on computer issues, or even “how-to” technology advice, but if you will forgive me this one time, let’s have a conversation about just how important the issue of aligning education with real-world job availability is to the future of our children.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in higher education. But, what exactly does “higher education” mean? The problem we have is a pervasive mentality of “college for everyone.” And, more than that, it’s the mentality of “university for everyone.” In reality, there are many jobs that perhaps don’t require a four year degree. Rather, they require specialized training or skills that can be obtained at community colleges or even in job training programs.

Now, don’t get up in arms just yet defending your alma mater. I’m going to give you some specific examples, but because this is a technology column, I want to give you some specific examples related to the field. If your son or daughter is interested in a tech field, but doesn’t find the four-year university route appealing, then maybe he or she should check out the local community college.

Many students attend community colleges as a cost-savings measure, and that’s actually a very smart play. However, community colleges are much more than just university preparatory institutions. In reality, community colleges offer many certificate programs designed to place students directly into the workplace. Quite a few of those programs are even accepted as fulfilling state licensing standards.

For instance, if you want to be a lineman, check out the program offered at Lincoln Land in Springfield or at Frontier in Fairfield. Both programs will put you on the way to a career in the electric utility industry. Interested in a job in renewable energy? Your community college may even have a certification program to get you ready to enter the field. Here is one such program: http://www.llcc.edu/career-training/workforce/renewable-energy-academy/

If you want a career in a more stereotypical technology job, then nearly all community colleges offer a certificate program in computer information systems. These programs differ somewhat from institution to institution, but they all have in common the fundamental standard of preparedness for the workforce. If you want to see a great example of workforce ready programs, check out Mattoon’s Lakeland College. Just go to https://www.lakeland.cc.il.us/as/as/academicprograms/programs.cfm and scroll down until you see the header. Once there, you will see a myriad of programs with a little “GE” beside them. The GE indicates programs specifically tailored for Gainful Employment.

On a personal note, I am particularly fond of Lakeland’s Geospatial Technology program, especially when combined with some (or all) of the coursework from one of the IT centered programs.

Remember the conference I spoke about earlier? Both Lakeland College and representatives from North American Lighting (NAL) were there to speak about a great program jointly developed to train potential employees to be technicians at NAL. It’s this kind of collaboration that holds the future of education for our country.

Four-year universities still have a very valid place in our society. There will always be a need for higher education. More than that, there will always be a need for Master’s level, and beyond, educational institutions. But the good news is not everyone has to attend one in order to be successful. There are definitely options more suited for those who seek a different route to success. Perhaps if we start to think more about higher education as “training for all” instead of “university for all” we will see a sharper decline in the unemployment rate.

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