Retraining in a tough economy

It’s hard to ignore when terms like “linchpin” and “best-kept secret” are tossed around.

Ron Jackson

Ron Jackson

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 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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26 comments Add your comment


January 26th, 2010
7:16 am

I will believe it when employers are hiring. I graduated from Georgia’s premier institute and can’t find a job in my career field so now I am cooking mullet at this F**(ing place and I got a s_*t load of bills I can’t pay. Now I got the FASAP people on my A$$ for student loans and now I may have to go to a trade school, which I probably should have been or went to anyway or the flicking militarys.

Thanks Sonny!! and that labor comminusher Thurman, yea are the platue of intelligence.


January 26th, 2010
7:17 am

So… the head of the tech colleges claims that tech colleges are the way to go.

In related news, Mr. Hershey proclaims that chocolate prevents cancer.


January 26th, 2010
7:37 am

Jobseeker why do you blame Sonny and commissioner (yes I can spell) Thurman for your woes. I’m sure they both conspired to make sure you couldn’t find a job in your chosen field. The truth is GA’s Technical Colleges are doing a fantastic job of providing training for the real world. Many programs have 100% job placement upon graduation most others are (not all) have placements in the 85-95 percentile bracket. There are employers out there looking for skilled people who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty and willing to work their way up. With your attitude it will be hard to find the kind of job you’re obviously looking for!!


January 26th, 2010
7:59 am

PaintNtheCorners U are a _-_b&$$. If you read my post I did not complain about Ga Technical colleges, I complained about Georgia’s higher learning institutes or the university system and peopleesss running state government. And yes I blame Perdue Thormond, which I will not spell his name correctly because I witness this clowns inept several times.

Once when the recession started in 2001 this guy said there wasn’t a problem, how many of you are having problems finding jobs and the entire room stood up and he said “I didn’t know it was this bad”. He is the labor commissioner and he should have superior knowledge of the job market.

The manufacturing decline was predicted in the 90’s and the state needed well qualified workers for jobs in the 21st century and I know people that teach at technical colleges so I am not putting down technical colleges just the premier institute of eudcration.


January 26th, 2010
8:10 am

of course, Technical Colleges have always provided the same service and skilled technical employees. so I wonder why this is coming to light now?


January 26th, 2010
8:15 am

I have seen what georgia Technical colleges can do not only in my life but in many others. My question is why aren’t they given a bigger budget from the state? It is clear they have a much better success rate than a traditional 2 or 4 yr college but they still have a much less budget to do this. Doesn’t it make since to give more support to what is georgias life line?


January 26th, 2010
8:15 am

I remember when I gratuated from college 25 years ago. I thought the world revolved around me and catered to my desires also. Congrats Job Seeker! Your education continues and this is your next lesson – reality is nothing like a video game, movie or TV show. Take note and adapt accordingly…


January 26th, 2010
8:18 am

By the way Job Seeker, I have more confidence in you than I have in those who have educated you. You now see that it’s call a scam. Lesson #2.


January 26th, 2010
8:26 am

I went to a tech school and got a degree in computer programming. When I started school for my degree I had no doubt that I was doing the right thing. I was finding positions that I would qualify for upon graduation that started anywhere from $40k – $50k However, I did not foresee the decline of all industries. I thought It was a SURE thing. When I graduated people were being laid off and those with 5-10 years of experience were having to go for the jobs that I would have been qualified for a year or two prior.
Do I blame it on the school? No. Do I blame it on the companies hiring? No. They made a strong business decision to get more for their money. I blame it on myself and not going for a higher level education. Yes, I can go back to school and get more education, but I have found something I love to do. Get your foot in the door doing something you like and go to school for it while you are working there so that you can move up from within. It is tough out there people, but we have to find a way to make it work! Best of luck to all.


January 26th, 2010
8:35 am

If a real educator was in charge of the tech colleges rather than a bureaucrat from the Dept of Corrections, the system would be in much better shape. The recent growth is due to the economy, not his leadership (or lack their of.) He and his group have set the colleges back 15 years or so.

Blue Fender

January 26th, 2010
8:35 am

Every since I graduated college with an engineering degree, I’ve had issues getting the opportunity for employment. I’ve worked in manufacturing as an electrical engineer, designing and programming production equipment, for 20 years. Jobs come and jobs go (mostly go – to China or Mexico). If you want to have steady employment, go into the medical or pharmaceutical industries. There will always be sick people from which to drain money.


January 26th, 2010
8:45 am

I graduated from one of the technical colleges with a 4.0 GPA in Accounting. I landed a job but was laid off within 8 months. All the ads for accountants state that applicant has to be 3 to 5 years experience. So, I’ve got this degree but no experience relevant experience. I’ll believe the concept that adding skills will boost employment opportunities when I see companies willing to take on people in entry level positions. Face it, folks. A lot of experienced people are without work. They will be the first ones hired when the economy comes back. I think its peachy keen that Microsoft is willing to train people for new skills but will Microsoft and the state of Georgia make those entry level jobs happen? I think not.


January 26th, 2010
8:53 am

I was so happy to see a picture of a welder on the front page. After squirrelling around in college unsure of what I really wanted to do, I finally wised up and went to trade school and learned welding through an intensive course. A year later I was making more money than many of my friends who had a 4-year college degree, some of whom were laid off. Of course, there are often layoffs in the construction industry, but if you are willing to work hard and make a name for yourself, you can always find work in your field in some way, shape or form, and make good money for it.


January 26th, 2010
8:54 am

I graduated from GT in ‘07. Then founded, operated and sold a landscape contracting business in late ‘08. Unemployed until March ‘09. Took a job–seriously–digging ditches–me and a crew of 42 amigoes. I make $13/hr. plus a few benies.

I have had one of the best years of my life. The company I work for is going to survive this crapped out economy and is actually beginning to grow again. I hope to get a promotion to crew foreman within the next six months.

Did I ever in my wildest dreams think my degree from Tech would land me here? Nah, but I am surviving and having a blast in the mean time. I speak better spanish now than the amigoes do!!

The most important lesson I have learned is patience. I thought I was hot sh** coming out of GT. Starting at the bottom and working your way up has been the tried and true path for generations.


DAVID: AJC Truth Detector

January 26th, 2010
9:02 am

FACT:…There will be very few jobs created under president OBAMA……there were few jobs created under FDR…Two peas in the same pot..


January 26th, 2010
9:08 am

Thanks for the info on Vo-Tech schools in Georgia and their programs of study. You should promote your programs to more Georgians. I know a number of people who would greatly benefit from a vo-tech degree. Who said you have to attend a four-year university to become successful and fulfilled in a career?

Blue Fender

January 26th, 2010
9:21 am

DAVID: AJC Truth Detector

While you are correct in stating that Obama hasn’t created any jobs, he hasn’t pissed away jobs like GW did (unless you’re in a military related endevour). Of course, you can thank Clinton for sending all our jobs to Mexico and China in the first place.


January 26th, 2010
9:45 am

@GAeducator: I believe that you’re right on target — technical schools should be promoted. Unfortunately, in Georgia high schools, traditional college/university is touted as the holy grail. If a student with a modicum of intelligence even considers technical school or some other university alternative for a moment, they are met with gasps and ‘You can do better than that!’ — as if tech school and other college alternatives are only for half-wits (and all the more so if you’re female, like me). But if you stop to think about it, do you really want a half-wit constructing the bridge or the building you will have to cross or inhabit? I took calculus in high school and in university and did fine, yet I found some of the maths I had to study for welding and pipe installation to be challenging.

Traditional colleges and universities aren’t for everyone — why not promote tech schools in high schools as a viable alternative? In some European countries, after kids reach age 14, they have to choose which ‘college’ (equivalent of American high schools) they will attend. The colleges are geared toward specific professions — there are health science-related colleges, technical colleges, business colleges, etc. Some students will leave these colleges and attend a university — others will have enough training in their field (and a required apprenticeship) that by the time they are 18 or 19 or so, they are work-ready.

@Buzz: Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I hope that you make crew foreman. My favorite foremen have attitudes similar to you. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, starting at the bottom and working up — you earn respect and learn from the guys /ladies who were where you are,


January 26th, 2010
10:27 am

Heathcare never seems to go wrong. Retraining for services that people need. However I found that free Microsoft Certificate for training in software and computer related sciences particularly interesting. I found out it is something you can do from home.


January 26th, 2010
2:17 pm

FACT 1- The USA is quickly becoming a old nation as baby boomers retire (born 1945 – 1964).

FACT2- Statistically people ramp up there spending to age 48, then it declines.

Conclussion- As Americans age there pocketbooks tighten thus less demand for goods and services. As Americans age they will need a lot of medical care.

My opinion – Anyone age 18 – 35 get into healthcare. That will be the place to be for a good career over the next 25 years. Countries with a young educated class will pick up where the USA left off. Those countries would be China, Brazil, & India.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by ajc dot com and Online Recruitment, Henry Unger. Henry Unger said: Retraining in a tough economy [...]


January 26th, 2010
6:31 pm

STH–thanks–it is gratifying to have to fix what the so called engineers have designed. I am amazed at how ingenious my fellow amigos really are. I have gained an appreciation for their hardwork and humble attitudes. I have come around 180 degrees on the immigration issue. But that is a whole other can of worms.

You a chick welder and pipefitter–sweeeettt!!



January 26th, 2010
9:48 pm

I agree with you GAEducator. I recently graduated with an Accounting degree from Lanier Technical College and you do get a hands-on education in a technical college. I also earned a bachelor’s degree several years ago and much of that time was spent in classroom listening to lectures-no hands-on learning. While at Lanier Tech I took economics and the instructor made a very telling comment-technical colleges in Georgia are considered “red-headed step-children” by the state government. Perhaps that is why they don’t get the funding that they need.

FYI, Lanier Technical College has started a new program in which students are trained to install solar panels, if anyone is interested.


January 27th, 2010
10:12 am

JC, I take offense to your comments about Commissioner Jackson. Do you know him personally? If so, why do you make these comments? I do know him and have worked for him since before he became commissioner. He is a good, hard-working honorable man who knows a lot about his job and education. What he does not know about education, he depends upon the intelligent hard-working Presidents at the Technical Colleges to fill him in on. He is not the kind of person to sit idly in his office with blinders on and just try to balance the budget. He cares about the Technical College System of Georgia, the students attending the schools, the potential students, the job market and all of the employees under him at all of the Technical Colleges in Georgia.

Unless you know otherwise, please don’t criticize this man.

yeah right

January 27th, 2010
11:06 am

u need to create your own job, like the do in guatemala or el salvador or argentina. school is fine if there is a market for your newly acquired skills. right now there is no market, so u have to think outside the box, and that sure as heck ain’t easy


September 7th, 2010
9:50 am

As Blue Fender has stated, now the only guarantee in the job market would be in the medical
field. But, that field also is going to get hard, as more people are jumping into that field, so only
less salary and hours can be expected. Many people are now trying to outsource
non-emergency medical care in foreign countries to save a bundle of money. Medical industry
as a whole will be faced with their financial problems in the near future. Many county hospitals
are in red ink and ready to close. Less people are hospitalized due to the lack of medical
insurance, also even the people with insurance is avoiding hospitals by the fear about paying
the deductible. So, hours of the hospital employees are reduced recently.

My son with with his MS in mechanical engineering is planning to study for medicine because
he was totally disappointed about his career.

Now the next question needs a detailed answer. How many people have technical brain to
study? If somebody is trying to teach me maths, I don’t have the brain to understand it. As we
preach very easily, all the people are not fit into learn technical subjects.

We must try to be self-sufficient without depending on foreign oil and goods to get out of this
mess. Our lifestyle has to be radically changed, because we are faced with a grave reality of
life, which none of us never expected to befall on us in an unexpected time.