Career Development

Trading the Familiar for the Unfamiliar with Career Development.

| 2017 Q4 | story by Marvin Hunt, former Director of the Peaslee Center, photos by Steven Hertzog
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
-Albert Einstein

 City of Lawrence

Peaslee Center

Here at Peaslee Tech, we see hundreds of people walk through the door, and most of them are concerned about similar issues—how to get the right training so they can succeed in life, how much does it cost, and how long does it take? Many of them have a mountain to climb or a sea to cross before finding their new success. In short, they are considering trading what they know, the familiar, for the unfamiliar. Let’s look at what it means to change careers in 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. I’ll start with two short stories.

A future student, I’ll call him Rivera, called me once to ask about studying Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning (HVAC) at Peaslee Tech. He had developed his skills to the point that he ran his own renovation business, but he wanted more credentials so he could broaden the scope of his work, make more money and provide better service to his customers. Rivera had already earned various technical certificates, so accomplishing the HVAC cert seemed feasible. He was ready to enhance his career, again.

Another student I’ll call Cheryl had worked several jobs but was ready for a change. A family member worked for several years as a technician in the manufacturing industry and served as an example for her. Cheryl decided to start a career by studying industrial maintenance, a field dominated by men. We found a way to support her through the Growing Real Opportunities for Women (GROW), a program financed by AT&T that provides mentors, stipends and other support for women in technical studies.

These two examples are typical to the world of technical training. Although each student and each story are unique, there are common ideas. After involvement in workforce development, training and education during the past few decades, I have found that most of the stories provided to me by those seeking technical training lead to one of the following four career-related areas.

Career Starters:

These are people who may be working part-time or are simply looking for a job, but are toying with the idea of a career. They are often unsure of the type of training they want but, instead, are exploring options. They often want better pay and better hours. Typically, they want to “spread their wings” and launch into adulthood in their own unique way. They are motivated to benefit themselves, although the watchful eye of a parent often casts influence. Some Starters have embarked on a four-year university program only to drop after an unsuccessful first year.

 City of Lawrence

Students work together in an industrial working class.

Career Enhancers:

These are people who may feel unfulfilled in their current job. They often want higher pay and to move beyond their current coworkers. They are already employed, so they are not typically desperate. They often want to prove to their families that they can advance and improve their home situation. Those Enhancers coming from industry are likely to be the next supervisors and leaders. Peaslee offers apprenticeships for industries that have targeted potential Enhancers who will lead.

Career Switchers:

These are individual who have established, to some extent, a career. They have learned about an industry and believe they can move further, faster, by gaining new skills and moving to another specialized industry and career track. Like Enhancers, Switchers are often more mature and, thus, are thinking about saving for retirement or paying for their children to attend college or training in a few years.

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Students work on repairing an engine exhaust manifold.

And, by the way, the average student age in technical training is in the early 30s. We train people ranging from 16 to 50 at Peaslee Tech (although we once had a 17-year-old in the same classroom as a 71-year-old).

High School Students:

These individuals get their own category. Most of us could not begin to envision how we would develop our career when in high school. High school students are often passionate about a content area such as automotive technology or photography, but their dream of a career can become derailed after learning more about the reality of the activities required in a career. For example, students envisioning themselves in the medical profession can decide otherwise once they take a Certified Nursing Assistant course and realize jobs related to their passion may require cleaning bedpans, helping people who may be grouchy and other tasks they had not previously considered. However, the high school category is critical to the future of technical training. In fact, our field must expose more elementary students to technical careers so that, by the time they are in high school, they have had multiple exposures to tech studies and are ready to enroll in and try technical programming as a potential fit for their first serious career exploration.

 City of Lawrence

A house being built at Peaslee that will be placed at a Kansas State Lake as a cabin.

In relationship to technical training, Lawrence and Douglas County have the highest population in the areas of High School Students and Career Starters. However, opportunities abound, and our county is certainly large enough to support training in each of the categories. Every day, employers call or email us adamantly inquiring about how they can gain access to our students who have attained certificates.

According to Economic Modeling Specialists International, in 2012, 53 percent of skilled trade workers in the U.S. were 45 years and older, and 18.6 percent were between the ages of 55 and 64. These facts were based on the Virginia Manufacturers Association’s definition of skilled trades and as noted in a 2013 Forbes article by J. Wright, titled “America’s Skilled Trades Dilemma: Shortages Loom as Most-In-Demand Group of Workers Ages.” In 2017, these workers, if still in the workforce, range from 50 to almost 70 years of age. We are facing a looming crisis in skilled trades because of retirements and increased demand for these skills, especially given the automation interface now prevalent in all skilled trade areas.

Putting it simply, we need newly trained skilled workers at a local level. It is easy to call someone at a call center in India or Mexico if your satellite dish receiver does not work correctly, but if your plumbing or car blows up, you had better find someone local who can help.

Regardless of where you find the data, starting pay for skilled trade jobs, such as manufacturing maintenance techs, construction workers, HVAC techs, computer network specialists and other areas in which Peaslee Tech trains, ranges from $35,000 to much higher. The opportunities are there if the Career Starters, Career Enhancers and Career Switchers can make the leap into new realities that await them.

Trading the familiar for the unfamiliar may take the student down an uncomfortable path in the short run, but in the long run, the rewards will be there.

 City of Lawrence

Peaslee Tech Lobby

 City of Lawrence

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