by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – For a few generations now the typical plan was known almost from birth: finish high school, get that college degree, enter the workforce and pursue that American Dream.
Even in these difficult economic times, the American Dream is still worth pursuing but the path to reach it may not take you through a traditional four-year college or university. As the economy becomes more reliant on technology, many employers are getting worried about having enough qualified workers to hire in coming years.
AT&T Missouri President John Sondag says his company is among several who are investing in efforts to keep young people in school and encouraging them to pursue higher education in a research or technology field.
AT&T’s national effort is called “Aspire”. It funds local organizations – several in Missouri – that have a track record of keeping high school students in school through graduation.
Sondag says even those who prefer a blue-collar life need to consider a technical education of some kind. That’s because he believes many of today’s sweat and muscle-powered industrial jobs will change in the coming years.
“When you look at the manufacturing today, a lot of it is robotics. A lot of it is use of technology.”
That’s not a fad, that’s a long term trend in American business and Sondag sees many new career options as a result.
“People have to design those systems. They have to run them. So we need people that are skilled, whether it’s in computer science [or] all aspects of engineering.”
Those new career options also mean the potential for bigger paychecks and possibly an earlier start to a career than if a traditional college route were taken.
“We have found that people in STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] related careers will earn about 26% more over their career than those who are in non-STEM.”
For Missouri’s high school students and maybe those who are mid-career in another field, the question becomes one of where to get the technical education needed to launch that potentially lucrative career.
A traditional four-year college or university may be the right fit. That depends on the individual and the field they want to pursue, the style of learning that’s best for them and how soon they want to start a full-time career.
Career and technical education is also an option. Typically, the formal education is more specialized, takes less time to complete and is less expensive than the university degree.
Raghib Muhammad is with the Missouri Association for Career and Technical Education and wants students in particular to know they have options for learning after high school.
On “Missouri Viewpoints”, he explains why success can come from a two-year certificate or degree at a technical, vocational or career school. One main reason is the option to focus on technical skills and fill roles where employers are dealing with “a shortage in skilled labor.”
Those fields include food service, computer programming, HVAC, electrical work, nursing, agricultural fields and several others. Both in the private and the public sector, education and training programs are available that take a different approach than the university setting takes.
Going back to the question of where the right educational fit is for someone looking at different options; Muhammad says there’s help available to answer that.
“We utilize a resource called ‘Missouri Connections’. That’s an online resource where students can take a skills assessment. This skills assessment will identify those areas that the student is strong in.”
He agrees with Sondag that someone with a technical education, while having spent less time in a classroom, could earn a higher salary than those who go through the four-year college system, depending on the field.
“Having a four year degree doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to make more money than someone with a two-year degree, especially someone with a specialized skill.”
Having multiple education options isn’t just important for students, Muhammad believes, it’s also important to the entire state.
“If we have a strong CTE [career and technical education] program, it makes Missouri stronger because, instead of going overseas for your skilled force, you can hire a skilled workforce right at home.”
On the web:
Missouri Association for Career and Technical Education: https://www.mo-acte.org/