By Dr. Karin Edwards
There’s something about the turning of the new year that gives people a mind to make changes. The new year presents us with a blank slate, a chance to reinvent ourselves. People want to eat better, get into shape, spend more time with their families, do more of the things they love to do.
All of these things are worthy goals, but why not aim for a fundamental change? Why not decide to make this the year that you find a great new career?
The fact is, having a steady job with good pay and benefits – in other words, a career – leads to a more satisfying life with more self-determination. I’m not suggesting that money buys happiness, but a gainful job offers a person more choices: choices on where to live, what to do with your spare time, how you wish to raise your family, and much more.
Today’s gainful employment, according to a recent Georgetown University study, can increasingly be found in “skilled service fields,” which include industries such as health care, finance, and information technology. In addition, as members of the Baby Boom generation transition into retirement, there is a rising demand for traditional skilled workers, like electricians, welders, and mechanics. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2024 our economy will need as many as 165,000 new trained electricians to meet marketplace demand.
What these trends mean is that most living-wage jobs today require a significantly higher standard of technical training and education than in generations past. According to the Georgetown study, more than 95 percent of the jobs created during the recent economic recovery have gone to people “with at least some college education, while those with a high school diploma or less are being left behind.”
What does this mean, then, to someone contemplating a change in career, or to a young person considering options for their future? It means it’s time to enroll in community college.
Why community college, you might ask? For two reasons: First, not everybody is interested in earning a four-year degree, and there are lots of living-wage jobs out there that don’t require a four-year degree. Second, the price of a bachelor’s degree has increased exponentially over the past three decades. Community colleges remain the section of the higher-education system with the fewest barriers to entry. For many students, particularly low-income students and students of color, this can mean the difference between a bright future and not much future at all.
Third, community college career and technical education programs maintain a very high standard of training and education, and remain in constant communication with private-sector to ensure that students are trained with the latest cutting-edge equipment, technology, and techniques to ensure that they’re ready to enter the workforce.
Here’s just one example of what I’m talking about. Vigor Industrial Inc. operates a 60-acre facility on Portland’s Swan Island, where they build, repair, and refit ocean-going ships of all kinds. Through our partnership with Vigor, Portland Community College maintains a training facility at Vigor’s site where PCC Maritime Welding students can learn their trade on real ships alongside skilled industry veterans. These students are supported by faculty and staff at PCC’s nearby Swan Island Training Center, where people can also learn to become electricians, millwrights, industrial mechanics, and a range of other skilled trades.
Newly-minted maritime welders can expect a starting wage of around $17 per hour to as much as $27 per hour, depending on the specifics of the job and the workplace. And these are jobs that are unlikely to be outsourced -- as long as the world needs ocean-going ships, it will need welders to work on them.
What’s more, PCC is pursuing a federal designation of its Swan Island facility as a Maritime Center of Excellence, which would expand its capacity to train domestic maritime workers by admitting more students, expanding facilities, creating new maritime career pathways, and awarding credit for prior learning experience – including military service.
These kinds of opportunities didn’t come to pass by accident. They’re part of a deliberate push by PCC to become our area’s premier job training and workforce development engine. In fact, at PCC, we call them “Pathways to Opportunity,” and they are spelled out under our president’s work plan.
The Maritime Welding program is but one example of the many Pathways to Opportunity available through PCC. Whether you want to be an electrician, a medical assistant, a paralegal, a web designer, a medical lab technician, or any one of a wide range of gainful occupations, PCC could be the right fit for you. There is a path to a living-wage career, economic security, and a prosperous future – and it leads through community college.
Dr. Karin Edwards is president of Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus.