As the average four-year student debt burden balloons, technical colleges are trying to recruit more students to enroll in programs that last only two years and can result in high starting salaries.
Employers in metro Atlanta are “begging for graduates” from programs including welding, automative technology and advanced manufacturing, said Rebecca Alexander, vice president of academic affairs for Gwinnett Technical College. That need for trade trained and certified workers is even higher due to a state unemployment rate at a 17-year low of 3.9 percent.
One of the industries in metro Atlanta in most need of workers is the construction industry, according to Mark D’Alessio, a spokesman for the Technical College System of Georgia. This includes welders, carpenters, electricians and plumbers.
The high demand for these workers also creates opportunities for faster advancement in a career, said Adam Forrand, the director of education and talent development for Partnership Gwinnett.
“There are pathways for advancement that bring in additional compensation and increase in wage,” Forrand said. “In this tightening labor market, employers are promoting their best employees into supervising and managerial jobs.”
Many programs focused on these fields offer apprenticeships, internships and other hands-on experience before a student graduates. Gwinnett Tech has partnerships with Mercedes-Benz and Nissan to train future automotive technicians to work specifically with each brand’s cars, Alexander said. These partnerships create a higher likelihood of students getting jobs right after graduation, she said.
“It’s a fantastic way for students to earn a degree, diploma, or certificate, an hourly wage, on-the-job experience, and entry into a career path—all at the same time,” D’Alessio said in an email.
You don’t need to be straight out of high school to learn a trade. All you need is a strong work ethic and a “desire for hands-on experiences,” Alexander said. Taking a full load of courses at Gwinnett Tech costs $2,171 per semester, including fees, for Georgia residents. It costs nearly three times more — $6,212 — per semester to attend four-year university Georgia Tech.
HOPE Career Grants, designed to increase the number of qualified workers in in-demand fields, can make this cost even lower, Alexander said. Qualifying students can get up to $1,000 per semester to cover their studies in 15 different fields.
Here are the median salaries for career fields covered by HOPE career grants, according to the Technical College System of Georgia:
• Automotive Service Technician - $50,000
• Avionics Technician - $57,000
• Computer Programming - $79,000
• Construction - $42,000
• Diesel Equipment Technology - $51,000
• Early Childhood Education - $30,000
• Electrician - $52,000
• Health Science - $46,000
• Industrial Maintenance - $48,000
• Logistics - $58,000
• Movie Production/Set Design - $42,000
• Practical Nursing - $49,000
• Precision Manufacturing - $35,000
• Truck Driving - $53,000
• Welding & Joining Technology - $36,000
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