It’s hard to ignore when terms like “linchpin” and “best-kept secret” are tossed around.
That’s what happened at last week’s Georgia Jobs Summit when several speakers referred to the state’s technical college system as an important resource that more unemployed workers need to tap.
So I decided to sit down with the commissioner of the state’s tech colleges, Ron Jackson, to see if the schools can be as helpful as some said they were.
You be the judge.
A little background first. Many jobs, especially in manufacturing, are not going to return, even when the economy decides to adopt a kinder posture than it has over the past two years. So many unemployed workers are going to have to learn new skills. If there’s an alternative to that, I don’t know it.
A place to do that relatively quickly and cheaply is at one of the 28 tech colleges. Since Georgians now collect unemployment insurance benefits for an average of 14 weeks, it’s possible to get certified in some job skills — including welding and patient care assisting — in less time (as little as 10 weeks).
“We’re not grounded in theory, we’re grounded in skill,” Jackson, 62, said. “Companies are looking for skills. … We design the curriculum for what they need.”
The system’s 600 programs run the gamut, from nursing and respiratory therapy to computer gaming technology and 3D animation, to truck driving, HVAC and underwater welding (for repairing ships at the port). Take a whirl through the Web site at www.tcsg.edu. All the choices made my head spin.
You have three options. Certificate programs run from 10 weeks to 14 months, depending on the field. There are diploma programs, which run from one to two years, and then there’s the two-year Associate of Applied Science degree.
“We’re not your daddy’s trade school any more,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to have academic courses.”
Financially, he said, most students can go for free or relatively little cost. The Hope Grant — the only qualification is you must be a Georgia citizen for at least a year — covers tuition and books for the certificate and diploma programs. The Hope Scholarship — which has an academic requirement — covers the two-year associate degrees. In addition, many students also qualify for federal grants for the remaining amount.
As of last June, Jackson said, about 94 percent of the students landed a job in their field within six months of completion. Another 3 percent went on to four-year colleges.
Will this “jobless recovery” push down the placement rate?
“We’re watching it closely,” Jackson said. “I think placement may fall, but we don’t know yet.”
The system, which has been growing, is closing in on 200,000 students a year. Still, many unemployed workers have not taken advantage of it. Men, for example, currently make up 56 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, but only 37 percent of the tech system’s enrollment.
If we’re going to get a handle on unemployment, that has to change.
“We’re close to home and we don’t cost a lot,” Jackson said.
If you need to put bread on the table quickly, what do you have to lose?
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