In unprecedented times, career and technical schools quickly ready grads for in-demand occupations
BY NANCY PARELLO
Facing an uncertain and volatile labor market during the pandemic, many are flocking to career and technical education schools that specialize in quickly preparing students for good-paying jobs that are in high demand.
“Over the past year, we have grown by 60%,’’ said Deborah White, executive director of marketing at Pennco Tech, which has campuses in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. “All of our eight programs are considered essential careers and we have seen a surge in both demand for our graduates and students seeking enrollment.’’
To keep pace, Pennco has expanded its footprint to make room for more students.
“We’ve expanded across the board for all eight of our programs,’’ White said. “We added 5,400 square feet to our Blackwood campus and created new square footage at our Bristol, Pa., location to accommodate social distancing in classrooms.’’
Students are attracted to these programs because of the much lower cost when compared to a four-year college education, the near certainty of landing a good job and the short amount of time it takes to get into the workplace, school officials said.
“These technical programs are built so that students go directly into the career-oriented courses they’re interested in,’’ said David Stout, president, Brookdale Community College in Lincroft. “We can get them into the field much quicker because they’re concentrating in those areas that are technically oriented.’’ “There is lower student debt associated with going into the trades and you’re out in the working world in much less time,’’ White added. “It’s a great choice. College is not ‘one-sizefits- all.’ You have choices. Go out and explore those opportunities.’’
At Pennco Tech, certification programs range from automotive training, HVAC and electrical to medical assistants and pharmaceutical technicians. The school is partic- ularly proud of its partnership with Mazda, which provides students with both paid apprenticeships and jobs after graduation.
“Their dealerships are a direct pipeline to jobs,’’ White said. “And there are some really cool perks for students, including tuition reimbursement and credit toward car payments every month.’’
The County College of Morris also is responding to growing demand for students who want to prepare for certain jobs, as well as employers clamoring for skilled workers, said Anthony J. Iacono, president.
“We’re a community college and we need to be supportive of our whole community,’’ Iacono explained. “Area businesses want a much bigger, more reliable pipeline for everything from manufacturing jobs to health care positions. So we began expanding our programs based on that need.’’
In turn, the community’s businesses and hospitals have lent support to growing these programs, including assisting with funding the construction of the college’s state-of-theart Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Center.
Students training at this center can quickly earn certifications and land jobs such as machinists and technicians in today’s clean, modern manufacturing plants. Through the college’s “manufacturing boot camp,’’ students get hands-on experience and can be in paid apprenticeships within six to eight weeks.
“The nice thing is that these things are scalable,’’ Iacono said. “You can start off with certifications, start earning and then work toward full degrees.’’
PC Age Career Institute also sees a growing number of students eager to earn one of the 35 information technology certifications it offers. Providing both fundamental and advanced level courses, all are designed to meet industry certification requirements, according to Zafar Khizer, president.
“We give our students all the skills they need for a successful career in IT,’’ Khizer said. “We are focused on cyber security and cloud computing, which are two of the fastest-growing and highest paying fields in the industry.’’
In nine short months, students can earn 33 transferable credits and land a job with starting salaries of about $45,000, he added. They can begin working right away, while also continuing their education, if they choose. Khizer said it is not uncommon for graduates to eventually earn more than $100,000 a year.
PC Age is now offering a $2,000 COVID discount, along with a personal mentor, as many students are engaged in live online learning, Khizer said.
Health care workers also are in strong demand. While some of this may be pandemic- related, opportunities in the health care industry always abound, school officials said.
“We train more than half of the nurses in Morris County and 90% of radiography technicians and respiratory therapists,’’ Iacono said. “But people are needed in other areas, so we recently partnered with Atlantic Health to open a paramedic program, two programs in public health and a sonogram program.’’