Vocational School Founder Barry Maleki Helps Students Learn Core Skills, Advance in the Jobs Market

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Helping workers escape from dead-end jobs is the calling of Barry Maleki, 61, founding president of Ontario-based Westech College. The private, for-profit vocational school, which also has campuses in Victorville and Moreno Valley, trains students for entry-level positions in health care and other growth industries.

Maleki said most of the school's 550 students are in their 20s and leaving low-paying jobs in fields like fast food and warehousing. But he said, in this recession, the school also is attracting older workers laid off from jobs they can't replace and are looking to change careers.

Maleki, who has a doctorate in education from USC, said he designs courses to prepare students for jobs in high demand. Westech offers four programs: medical assistant, medical billing and coding, office administration and computer-aided design.

Although such jobs initially offer modest pay -- about $12 an hour -- Maleki said they give students a "foot in the door" of industries where they can thrive as they gain experience and further education.

Q: What is your marketing message?

A: Our message is that building a career requires education of at least a year or two beyond high school to get a stable and better-paying job. All our programs are a step to the next step. For instance, we encourage those who have learned to become medical assistants to go to a community college to get an Associate of Arts degree or go into a nursing program.

Q: Wouldn't it be cheaper for them to go to a community college in the first place?

A: The advantage we have over community colleges is that here students concentrate only on the subject matter they need to get a job. For them to graduate from a community college they also would have to take general education courses. Most of our programs take about seven months to complete, while to get an AA degree from a community college takes about 24 months.

Q: How much tuition do you charge?

A: It depends on the program. But the average is about $11,000. There are scholarships and government grants available and students also can get loans.

Q: How do you select the programs that you teach?

A: The very first thing we do before we embark on developing a program is to check the marketplace. We do a survey of employers to find out wages and qualifications, and we check county and state labor statistics to see how much demand there is. We also check to see how much competition we would have from other accredited schools.

Q: Do employers know what to expect from your graduates?

A: We train at entry level. Entry level means that the person knows the basics of that job but needs some supervision to advance. Hiring at entry level is a plus for employers because they get somebody fresh and willing to learn their system and who will start at a little lower wages than somebody who is experienced.

We also have an advisory committee composed of employers. We kind of pick their brains. They help us improve and update our programs.

Q: What is most satisfying about your career?

A: It is having graduates come back to us and tell us their success stories. We have a graduate who is now a project manager for a large civil engineering company. He drove back in his Porsche. He is married and has children and, according to what he said, he is making over $100,000 a year. When he was here he was a student who was determined to be the best. (The Press-Enterprise)