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Career accelerator: Certificate holders skip college, dive into job market

Published: Friday, July 31 2015 10:23 a.m. MDT

Jake Adams, left, Evan Shipaanboord and Tom Tarkoff show off the details of the home that they worked on in Sandy. (All, photos by , joey ferguson,, deseret news) Jake Adams, left, Evan Shipaanboord and Tom Tarkoff show off the details of the home that they worked on in Sandy. (All, photos by , joey ferguson,, deseret news)

Thinking of a job after high school? Perhaps you should reconsider how to get there.

With average college debt per student topping $22,000, more students are turning to certificate or hands-on programs that get them into better paying jobs at a fraction of the price.

About 22 percent of post-secondary awards, including college degrees, are certificates, up from 6 percent in 1980, according to Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.

On average a certificate will help someone earn $34,946 a year, 20 percent better than a high-school only graduate. But compared with an associates or bachelor's degree, its 17 percent or 36 percent lower, respectively. For many it's a stepping stone.

For Ryan Tedrow, an 18-year-old high school senior from Riverton, his hands-on electrical installation class in high school helped him boost his hourly rate 38 percent to $10 an hour, which will help him work through college.

Fred Smith (left), onsite instructor over construction, points out features of the home in Sandy he and his students built. (All, photos by , joey ferguson,, deseret news) Fred Smith (left), onsite instructor over construction, points out features of the home in Sandy he and his students built. (All, photos by , joey ferguson,, deseret news)

"I didn't know anything about electricity before I came here," Tedrow said. "Now, going into the job that I have it's cake. I know the basics of everything that they're having me do, and I can do it."

Tedrow and his fellow students at Canyons Technical Education Center, part of the Canyons School District, built a 3,100-square-foot home in Sandy.

In the Canyons' case, employers walked around quizzing students on how they were able to install the accent lighting and create walk-in closets in the five-bedroom, three-bathroom house, which will be in the Sale Lake Parade of Homes in August.

Students had a year of hands-on experience to put these technical credentials on their resume. These credentials make most of these students more marketable than the average high school graduate.

Students Mike Nagle, left, and Scott Farnsworth look over building plans with Fred Smith, who is their instructor. (All, photos by , joey ferguson,, deseret news) Students Mike Nagle, left, and Scott Farnsworth look over building plans with Fred Smith, who is their instructor. (All, photos by , joey ferguson,, deseret news)

Tedrow chose to go to the Canyons' program for the experience and to start a career while supporting himself through college.

While enrolled in the electrical technician class, he applied for a job at Jordan Valley Electric and was hired that day.

"The first day of work they had me wiring 60 to 80 receptacles and then go on. I already knew how, so it was easy," he said.

Tedrow went from $7.25 an hour at his previous job to $10 right away at Jordan Valley Electric, with a guarantee that he'll get a dollar raise with every A he gets in his college classes.

Canyons and other career and technical schools across the nation are helping students focus on one specific career. The institutions provide the hands-on experience as well as teaching them other soft-skills, such as communication and resume skills.

Fred Smith, left, onsite instructor over construction, points out features of the home he and his students built in Sandy. (All, photos by , joey ferguson,, deseret news) Fred Smith, left, onsite instructor over construction, points out features of the home he and his students built in Sandy. (All, photos by , joey ferguson,, deseret news)

For example, the Tennessee Technology Centers are designed to be completed in two years and cost about $800 per trimester, according to the Georgetown study.

Because career and technical schools are affordable, 17 percent of lower-income families frequent them. That's 7 percentage points more than higher-income families, according to National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

The skills learned in career and technical programs help increase higher-quality jobs and employment consistency, according to Public/Private Ventures.

In addition, career and technical teachers provide many ways to help their students dive into career.

Some teachers, such as Fred Smith, who oversees the on-site construction program at Canyons Technical Education Center, also focuses on teaching students professional skills, such as interviewing techniques and greeting visitors directly.

Jake Adams, left, Evan Shipaanboord and Tom Tarkoff show off the details of the home that they worked on in Sandy. (All, photos by , joey ferguson,, deseret news) Jake Adams, left, Evan Shipaanboord and Tom Tarkoff show off the details of the home that they worked on in Sandy. (All, photos by , joey ferguson,, deseret news)

Smith suggests students join SkillsUSA a nonprofit, leadership organization that helps the classroom build a foundation on industry standards and soft skills.

It also provides more chances for students to show off their newfound skills in front of employers.

"Our activities put students in touch with employers," said Tom Holdsworth, director of communications and government relations for SkillsUSA.

"Just as important, we put employers in touch with students."

Employers recruit SkillsUSA students because students have shown interest in the field and learned the skills employers seek, he said.

In Utah, 2,662 students and professionals were involved this year in SkillsUSA, with 14 million students involved nationwide. More than 1,000 businesses sign up for SkillsUSA each year to observe students skills and employ them.

"This is one place that students are finding their passion for their careers, at SkillsUSA and career technical education," Holdsworth said.

"Students are finding what they're good at and what they want to do for their lives.

Ken Spurlock, principal of Canyon Technical Education Center, said the classes and programs help to put high school students in a better paying job now with the convenience to continue their schooling later.

In Smith's class, he persuades students to start thinking of the future.

"If you don't plan for the future you'll just kind of drift along a course of life and not really have much satisfaction there," he said. "You want them (students) to be goal oriented so that they'll actually set goals to try to accomplish something."

Depending on which field is being sought after, certificate students could make 75 percent higher than someone with an associate's degree.

Taking up a high-demand occupation, such as computer/information services, could earn between $55,664 to $72,498 per year. On average those that receive a bachelor's degree earn about $54,000, according to the Georgetown study.

email: ehong@desnews.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company