Technology students have edge on jobs

Published 2:57 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Trevor Cantrell will graduate this spring from the Shelby County School of Technology. (Reporter photo/Jon Goering)


Trevor Cantrell said the old, tired adage that students who pursue vocational education can’t cut it academically is unfair and inaccurate, particularly in today’s economic environment where all jobs are scarce and good-paying jobs often demand a technical skill set.

Mostly, Cantrell said, that attitude toward technical education cheats potential students out of a learning experience that could give them a much-needed boost toward choosing and getting started in a career that’s right for them.

He ought to know.

Cantrell, of Maylene, is the son of Jon and Carmell Cantrell and is a senior at the Shelby County School of Technology. He will graduate this semester with his high school diploma and also will have two years of training in computer assisted design (CAD) and drafting engineering on his resume.

But Cantrell’s education won’t end at the School of Technology. He plans to pursue a career as a civil engineer, beginning his studies at the University of South Alabama this fall.

“It’s not what people think,” he said. “People think it’s a school for those who can’t make it in ‘real’ school, and that’s far from the truth. We do the same work as other students in Shelby County high schools, but we also get a step up toward our chosen careers. My two years at the School of Technology have been nothing short of life changing for me.”

Cantrell said he has always been interested in design and how things are put together.  He said his work at the School of Technology has confirmed for him that in a career engineering is how he would like to spend his work life.

“I knew it would be good for me to have something under my belt to start off with. There’s no doubt that this training will give me a good start,” Cantrell said. “The SOT has been a great experience for me. The teachers have been phenomenal. We get a lot of one-on-one work with teachers – doing actual work we will be doing later in our careers – and that really helps to keep you focused. Doing this work has actually persuaded me that engineering is definitely the right career choice for me.”

Where the jobs are

Rene Day is career technical supervisor at Shelby County School of Technology. She said the jobs of the future may not require a traditional, four-year college education, but instead will be those that require specific, technical skills.

“What we’re hearing is the number of jobs in the segment of the economy that require a four-year degree has pretty much stayed the same. Jobs that require specific skills or trades are what are growing,” she said.

Take welding, for example.

“The state of Alabama is in great need of welders,” she said. “We hear about the downturn in the economy and how the construction industry got hit so hard, but that’s mostly true in residential construction. Industrial construction is strong here.”

Welding is one of the offerings of the School of Technology’s Construction Academy, which seeks to train students in construction trades like welding and electric skills.
“What we hear is women are better welders than men and are in great demand. Apparently, women have better hand-to-eye coordination and color perception. A weld is set when it turns a certain color and because men are more often color blind, women can better tell when the weld is set. We have women welders out there making $100,000 or more a year,” Day said.

Another industry whose jobs are growing is automotive technologies and collision repair, she said.

“These programs are very popular. Students come out of there with skills and knowledge to work at a large shop or start a shop of their own,” Day said.

The School of Technology also offers training programs in cosmetology, another growing field and one that is now attracting non-traditional students, like men.

“With all the spas and the like popping up, there’s an increased need and interest in that industry. Students here in some cases can put their hours in for their state boards and are pretty close to getting those when they leave here,” she said.

Students who graduate from the SOT’s internet and CISCO computer language program are fielding offers from “some major companies in the Greater Birmingham area and are making good money and are employable right after that program,” Day said.

Like its Internet counterpart, students who learn drafting and CAD — computer assisted design — are often ready to go to work right out of the program.

“They can do drafting own their own or work for someone else, but many of the kids in this program want to go on to study engineering or architecture in college,” she said.

The school’s health science program is one of its most popular, and most students who pursue that training are typically college-bound.

“Most are going to go to college to finish their education, but they can earn a pharmacy tech license here or go to work in general areas in a doctor’s office or nursing home right out of the program,” she said.

Another popular program is the school’s public service academy, which helps prepare students who want to become firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians.

“We have to turn kids away from the program because we don’t have the space,” Day said. “We work with local fire and police departments. In fact, we have one student this year who is doing an internship with the sheriff’s office and it’s going well enough that we will place another student there next year.”

Students at the SOT can also attend its finance academy and prepare for a career in booking at a basic level. Like most health sciences students, finance academy students typically will continue in college, studying business and accounting, Day said.

And students who attend the school’s culinary program graduate with Serv Safe credentials, she said.

“We are doing our best to put into place programs that students are interested in and which are in demand. We are constantly trying to tweak those,” she said. “No doubt about it, our numbers are going up.”

Starting out ‘ahead of everybody else’

Maegan O’Neal, a senior from Chelsea at the School of Technology and the daughter of Tanya Cotney and Michael O’Neal, said when she begins college classes this fall, she will have a leg up on other students pursing a career in nursing.

O’Neal will graduate this semester after two years in the SOT’s health sciences academy. She will begin an internship this month at Growingup Pediatrics in Inverness.

“I had to set up an interview, provide a resume and interview with a doctor to get the internship,” she said, all a part of her School of Technology training.

“I want to go to college and end up with my Bachelor of Science degree in nursing and specialize in pediatrics,” O’Neal said.

She hopes to study at Central Alabama Community College in Childersburg. She has been accepted there and has applied for a scholarship. However, if she is offered more in the way of scholarship dollars from Jefferson State Community College, she may end up there.

“I chose to do the technical route because my sister had previously done it and was very happy with it. I knew from an early age I wanted to work in the medical field and the program at the School of Technology has given me the skills I need to start out ahead of everybody else,” O’Neal said.

She will leave the program with health care provider-level certification in CPR for adults and infants through the American Red Cross and with CERT — Community Emergency Response Team — training and certification.

She said, were she not going to continue on to a bachelor’s degree, she would be qualified at graduation to go to work in “any nursing assistant job, straight into a hospital setting or any clinical setting.”

But mostly, O’Neal said, the School of Technology program has provided her with opportunities to develop her leadership skills.

“I’ve had the opportunity to lead my class. I’ve held officer positions for two years and am president of the National Technical Honor Society. That has allowed me to compete with other people in the state and on a national level.

“I definitely think that I know what I’m doing. I haven’t just learned about how to do it step-by-step, I’ve actually done it,” she said.

Because of her SOT health care training and leadership development, O’Neal thinks she will have an advantage in another important area — earnings potential.

“Money is power. If you have more training and abilities, you get paid more. And every penny counts,” she said.