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Is There Really Free Career Technical Training?

Dec. 3, 2013
California has it and its helping manufacturers fill the skilled trades gap.

Is free career technical training available? Yes, at least in California. I was recently given a tour of the San Diego Continuing Education headquarters facility by Dean Jane Signaigo-Cox and Vice President Brian Ellison. Continuing Education is the new name for what we used to call Adult Education where you could go back to school to get your high school diploma or take enrichment classes in art, cooking, foreign languages, sewing, etc.

While these types of classes are still being offered to adults over the age of 18, it is now possible to get technical job training and even certification in a variety of careers, such as automotive, computers, electronics, graphics, upholstery, pipe fitting, and welding. Unbelievably, these classes are free in California.

In 2006, then Governor Schwarzenegger identified workforce skills development, referred to as Career Technical Education (CTE), as a state priority. The passage of an education bond provided $500 million for CTE initially, and subsequent budgets have continued to fund the program. The plan was approved by the California State Board of Education on March 12, 2008 and approved by the U.S. Department of Education on July 1. CTE is delivered primarily through K-12 schools, adult-education programs, and community-college programs. CTE programs are closely linked with those of workforce and economic development agencies and industry and rely on the participation of community-based organizations. The programs are as follows:

California K-12/Adult Programs

  • Elementary school awareness and middle school introductory CTE programs.
  • High school CTE, offered through 1,165 high schools in single courses, in course sequences or through over 300 integrated “learning communities.”
  • Career pathways and programs through 74 regional occupational centers and programs.
  • Adult education offered through 361 adult schools and more than 1,000 sites.
  • Apprenticeship offered through more than 200 apprenticeship program and adult schools

The Continuing Education Center I visited is under the jurisdiction of the San Diego Community College District, but all of the California Community Colleges throughout the county and state offer the following programs.

  • Occupational programs at 109 colleges, leading to certificates, associate degrees, and transfers to four-year universities.
  • Noncredit instruction for short-term CTE programs offered by 58 colleges.
  • More than 160 apprenticeship programs at 39 colleges.
  • Middle College High Schools (13) and Early College High Schools (19).
  • Tech Prep programs delivered through 80 Tech Prep consortia, comprising 109 colleges and their feeder high schools.
  • Contract education provided to organizations for their employees.

San Diego’s Continuing Education program has been making history since 1914, when it started providing job training for returning military veterans from WWI. Year after year, more than 74,000 students are served annually by the seven Continuing Education campuses and many offsite community locations throughout the city of San Diego.In 2013, more than 3,600 students received Certificates of Completion for programs through San Diego Continuing Education (accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the highest level of accreditation a California school or college can receive.)

According to Jane Signaigo-Cox, who oversees many of these career technical programs, “more than 1800 of the certificates awarded were for these Career Technical Education job training programs. Since students spend an average of 65 to 70% of course time using hands on tools and technology to learn relevant skills for today’s jobs, they are prepared for an entry level position in their field after completing these courses.”

The Little Hoover commission, a non-partisan legislative agency, named San Diego Continuing Education as a top model program for efficiency and effectiveness in California. The Commission produced an in-depth, well-documented report, “Serving Students, Serving California: Updating the California Community Colleges to Meet Evolving Demands.” The report was presented to the California governor and legislature and includes several recommendations that suggest how programs could and should function in today’s world.

San Diego’s Continuing Education is the largest adult educational institute of its kind in the nation and has been invited to join 45 academic institutions in the Global Corporate College Network. The Global Corporate College was founded by leaders of entrepreneurial colleges and universities and leverages the best learning industry practices with the resources of accredited academic institutions. The organization is committed to helping employers realize the full potential of their workforce by providing training opportunities for corporations and organizations throughout the U. S. and Europe and currently services 17 industry sectors. In San Diego, this type of contract education is provided through the Employee Training Institute, which offers online training, classroom training, and on-the-job-site training for a fee. Hundreds of customized training options are available to San Diego businesses. Contact the Director of ETI at 619-388-1282 to learn more.

Addressing the Skilled Worker Shortage

Since I am aware of the shortage of skilled workers in the manufacturing sector, I was particularly interested in the type of career technical training available to address this need. My tour of the Educational Cultural Complex campus included the pipe fitting and welding training department. I was amazed at the number of Miller Electric welding stations they had to teach students in both MIG and TIG welding techniques. They even had one of the newer Lincoln Electric welding simulators that I got to try out at the FABTECH show in Las Vegas in 2012. Because of budget cuts for staff, there is currently only one daytime welding class of about 25 students and one evening class this fall.

After certification, entry-level pipe fitters can earn $17/hour and welders can earn $19/hour, which is a very good entry-level wage in San Diego. Journeymen welders can make double this wage. These are no easy programs: both require 1,200 hours of training, completed in 48 to 52 weeks. The Continuing Education program provides Career Development Services (CDS) that helps students with resume preparation, interview tips, and specific information about companies that are looking for certain skills. Regular job fairs are hosted at various campuses. Students also have the opportunity to meet with a career counselor who can help with identifying and setting goals that will keep students on the right track toward employment.

Most of the career technical training requiring specific equipment is only available at the Educational Cultural Complex, but electronic technician training is only provided at the mid-city campus. Training for machinists is only available at the San Diego City College campus as a for-credit college class.

Even after losing more than a half million manufacturing jobs since 2008, notes the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, “California is by far the number one state for manufacturing jobs, firms and output – accounting for 11.7% of the total output, and employing 9% of the workforce. CA manufacturing generates $229.9 billion, more than any other state.”

Manufacturing’s tarnished image has caused Gen X and Millennials to not even think of manufacturing as a career. As Editor-in-Chief Patricia Panchak of IndustryWeek wrote in her editorial, “Manufacturer's Agenda: Toward a New Skilled Workforce Shortage Solution,” too many people viewed manufacturing jobs as low-paying,dumb, dirty, dangerous and disappearing.”

This is certainly not true in San Diego and other parts of California. The majority of manufacturing plants in California are clean and high-tech compared to the heavy industry of the Midwest and so-called “Rust Belt.” Manufacturing jobs provide the opportunity to make higher wages according to many past IndustryWeek articles that have highlighted “statistics showing that manufacturing jobs on average pay higher salaries than jobs in other sectors.”

If you are in a low-paying or dead-end job, you may want to consider getting the technical training you need to obtain a higher paying job in manufacturing through your local community college or continuing education program.

If you are a company owner or member of the management team of a manufacturing company, you may want to contact your local community college or continuing education center to provide job offers to graduates of their certification programs or get your existing employees trained in new skills.

If you don’t live in California, then try a search using “career technical training” in your state to see what you can find. It may change your life or help you find the skilled workers your company needs.

Michele Nash-Hoff is president ofElectroFab Sales. She is the author of "Can American Manufacturing Be Saved?"

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