Looking for a Leg Up in a Bad Economy

On the 10th floor of an office building in the West Village, situated a few doors down from a video store advertising "blowout prices" and a "huge selection," and a "gourmet" deli that offers two eggs and a coffee for $3, students of various ages, occupational backgrounds and ambitions are in class, training to be medical assistants, chefs and hotel managers.

The Career Academy of New York, a training/trade school at 154 West 14th Street, known as CANY to those who attend it, has experienced a boom in enrollment prompted mostly by people looking for a leg up in the bad economy.

"Although the recession is extremely bad," said Mony Lotfi, the school’s director of admissions, "it’s really giving them more of an incentive and more of a push to say, ‘what was I waiting for, now is the time.’"

Many students are choosing trade or training schools over traditional colleges or universities because of the quick turn around from enrollment to graduation (as early as nine months) and the prospect of “recession proof” careers.

Ms. Lotfi said that she was anticipating a 14 percent increase in the number of students entering certificate programs at the school from last year. She said while some of the students were working-class people building new skills for a lasting career, others were laid-off professionals who were using the recession or the fact that they had been laid off to seek a different path.

The tuition at the Career Academy is about $13,000 for the entire nine-month program, which includes six months of in-school training and a three-month externship. A student’s out-of-pocket expense is often much less, Ms. Lotfi said. As an incentive to enroll in trade schools or training programs, the city and state offer up to $10,000 in tuition vouchers through the city’s unemployment office.

“A lot of people are getting laid off,” Ms. Lotfi said. “It’s really giving them the time to really think about what is it that they really want to do. Sometimes they just got caught up in a job, and they’ve been working and before they know it it’s been 10, 15 years. So now they are off they are exploring different avenues.”

Hasan Canty, 26, a former fire directions specialist in the Army, said his military training left him with few career prospects in the civilian world so, he enrolled in CANY’s medical assistant program.

“It cost entirely too much money nowadays to got to four-year colleges,” Mr. Canty said. “I think a training school is better because you’re not paying for a name, you’re paying for the actual education.”

At a four-year college, he said, “I think you’re actually paying for the windows and the big school and the size of the classroom.”

A floor above the lab where Mr. Canty and his classmates passed around containers filled with a faux-urine liquid and held swabs to paper test strips, Joshua Pizarro, 24, a culinary student, sorted through a pan full of fried chicken pieces while others stirred goulash and scoured pots and pans.

Mr. Pizarro said that he opted for what he called a more “rational” approach to his career training because “it’s a recession and it’s about the money.” Before enrolling in school, Mr. Pizarro said he worked for a fashion company where he saw limited opportunity for growth. So it was time to grow in a different direction, to find a sturdier career path.

“Regardless of a recession, people need to eat,” Mr. Pizarro said. “And I want to make sure that I’m the one that serves you, and I want to serve you not good food but great food. And here at CANY, they’re really giving us a good foundation.”


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