The struggle, as they say, “is real.” According to an article in the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic, the U.S. economy finds itself at the mercy of an interesting paradox: millions of Americans looking for jobs, while millions of jobs remain unfilled. What can be done to narrow this gap, and what happens if we cannot? Further, who is responsible for finding a solution?
Nationwide, community colleges play a critical role in developing skilled workers through Career and Technical Education programs that can and should be developed in conjunction with regional workforce experts to ensure local workforce needs can continue to be met. Given the sophisticated nature of many of these programs, and the expensive equipment required to properly train future employees, Tarrant County College applies each year for the Carl D. Perkins Grant.
This annual grant, which TCC has received for at least 16 consecutive years, allows the College to grow and/or develop robust technical education programs that prepare students for employment in high-skill, high-wage or high-demand jobs in current or emerging industries. According to Joy Gates Black, vice chancellor for academic affairs and student success, “This grant further enables TCC to work with its community partners to support the State’s 60X30TX plan that seeks to have 60 percent of Texans, ages 25 to 34, possessing a certificate or degree by the year 2030. In so doing, Texas and Tarrant County can maintain its global competitiveness as more students are prepared to enter today’s workforce.”
TCC’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are competency-based applied learning programs that challenge an individual’s academic knowledge, problem-solving skills and job-specific skill sets that today’s business and industry both want and need. CTE students are able to learn and train on industry-recognized equipment purchased with grant funds, allowing them to be prepared and marketable for the workforce at graduation—all without attending a four-year college and without the burdens of large student loan debt. Currently, TCC tuition totals $59 per credit hour, or just $885 for a 15-hour semester.
“Our CTE programs can help students to find jobs and then they can move forward from there,” said Nancy Curé, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We want people trained, employed and self-sufficient. Then, we want them to come back to us and get additional training, as they need it, so they can continue to advance in their careers.” Ongoing news coverage of the nation’s current and forecast shortage in skilled workers, particularly in allied health and industrial trades such as welding and logistics management, suggests that CTE programs play a critical role in developing the workforce needed for continued economic health at the local, regional and national levels.
“The message I want to send… what community colleges do, is that we can work with a student for short-term training programs and get them to working fairly quickly.” Curé said. “For those who want to move up in the career, we can help them also.”
The Perkins grant also is intended to help students explore non-traditional trades based on gender. Women, for example, can excel and be financially successful in jobs traditionally held by men, such as fire-fighting, welding, logistics, aviation mechanics, emergency response and automobile maintenance, to name a few. Similarly, roles traditionally held by women are equally worthy for men to consider.
The key, according to Curé, is for people first to understand these programs are viable options and, second, to have the support needed to complete the programs and confidently step into their new careers.
You have nursing as a career that pays well—high demand, high wage. It is in this day almost the perfect career with its high demand —high wage. But, for years, men would not go into that career. You would go to be a doctor. You wouldn’t go to be nurse. And so, I think that the Perkins Grant has really been focused on disabusing people of the notion that they must choose a career based on gender.
The Perkins Grant recently was re-funded with some recommended changes addressing CTE programs at the federal level. They have worked to align the new iteration of the grant with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which is all about helping job seekers secure the employment, education, training and support services they need to become successful in the labor market AND to match employers with the types of workers they need to be competitive.
“It’s a connect that been there all along, but I think this is really going to strengthen it. So, in terms of the future, this is great,”Curé said.
Thirty years ago, Autumn Luxton (pictured above) chose the path followed by many women at the time—she got married and started working. While raising her family, Luxton started work as a delivery driver for an auto supplies store and later became a sales rep for an automotive glass company. For the last 23 years, she has worked for a company that sells automotive paint and equipment. A solid job, yes…but it still wasn’t the work of her dreams. Luxton wanted to get her hands dirty. So, she enrolled in TCC’s Automotive Collision Repair program at South Campus.
“Autumn has been working in the industry many years. She’s seen the industry change and adapt,” said Collision Repair instructor Royce Wyatt. “Because of her work and goal to teach repair and refinishing, she’s helping break down stigmas that women can’t do this work.”
Luxton wants to teach refinishing here at the College. “There is such a shortage of automotive technicians, it’s unreal,” she said. “Everyone isn’t going to be a math or science major. A lot of people are better working with their hands.”
“The level of the technician is much more than what it was 15 or 20 years ago,” Luxton said. But, she emphasized that it’s still hard work and very labor intensive. “It’s much more than what people think—it’s very technical,” she said.
Today, Luxton sees graduation on the horizon. Before that, however, she will visit the Collision Repair class to describe life working in the industry. She also will help train her peers on the College’s new high-strength compression spot welder. Luxton points out, “A woman’s attention to precision, detail and, of course, color and our natural ability to multi-task better, makes us uniquely qualified to do this work.”