Downsized College Graduates Turn to Tech Centers for Job Training

A college degree is supposed to be the key to a bright future.

But in this dismal economy, more and more college graduates are finding that a degree doesn’t impress employers as much as it used to. Increasingly, college graduates who can’t find work are heading back to the classroom — not to get a degree, but for vocational training.

For years, Bob Podolsky put his degree in business administration to work as an accountant and comptroller at the General Motors plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. Then the economy hit a downturn, and Podolsky found himself downsized.

The state stepped in with money to help him retrain for a new career — one with more job security than the automotive industry. Podolsky, who is pushing 50, opted to study nursing.
He isn’t alone. The state’s unemployment rate topped 9.4 percent in November. Many of the places that are hiring these days require a specialized skill set. That’s where the Tennessee Technology Centers come in.

"It means a second life for me and a more secure career," said Podolsky, who is enrolled in the licensed practical nursing program at the Tennessee Technology Center in Murfreesboro.

Sitting at a table, surrounded by five classmates with college degrees and similar stories, Podolsky smiled. "It’s just a blessed opportunity to be here."

The Tennessee Technology Centers are the pride and joy of the state’s higher education system — singled out for praise by national organizations for their stellar completion and retention rates and even higher job placement rates. For less than $3,000 a year, students can be certified in a range of fields that are actually hiring these days, from health care to information technology to truck driving to cosmetology.

Last year, the technology centers boasted a 75 percent completion rate — far higher than the state’s universities or community colleges — and 83 percent of those who finished their certification program found work in their chosen fields, according to a 2010 survey by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.

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