Vocational schools offer ‘in and out’ career approach

02/08/2019 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – Vocational training from health care to skilled construction trades can offer a cheaper, quicker path to the workforce in desirable fields that experts say pay well.

“College is not for everybody,” George Roach, Cherokee Nation Career Services vocational programs director, said. “Yes, it’s great to have a college degree. But not everybody can be a doctor or an attorney. So for them, vocational is the way to go. We’ve got to have these guys – EMTs, bricklayers, carpenters.”

Also called career, technical or trade skills, vocational training typically offers a hands-on approach to jobs in two years or as little as two weeks.

“It’s for the working families that maybe don’t want to go to a four-year-degree school,” Roach said. “Four years is a long time.”

Career paths include health care jobs, manufacturing, heating and air, truck driving and more.
“It’s a great opportunity for anybody,” Roach said. “We have students with bachelor’s degrees come back to vocational because they can’t find a job in their field or just want to make more money.”

The average in-state tuition fee at public four-year colleges is $10,230 for the 2018-19 year, according to the annual Trends in College Pricing series published by the nonprofit College Board. In contrast, the average in-district tuition and fees at public two-year institutions is $3,660.

“At a four-year school, you’re going to spend on average, I’m guessing easily from $10,000-$50,000 a year,” Roach said. “For vocational, you might average about $5,000.”

Career-centered programs can propel established wage earners in new directions. Buffalo Gouge, a traditional artist since the 1990s, expanded his career with a digital focus after completing a yearlong graphic arts program at Indian Capital Technology Center.

“Since then, I’ve designed seven different (University of Oklahoma) logos, including the Cherokee OU logo,” Gouge said. “That’s just one of the successes from the program.”

Gouge’s decision to train for a specific artistic avenue pushed him into the commercial art sector, where he designs and creates book covers, commissions and T-shirts. He designed the inaugural Cherokee Phoenix homecoming T-shirt in 2016.

For those who want to enter their chosen field quickly, “I would strongly suggest a technical school,” Gouge said.

ICTC – with Tahlequah, Stilwell, Muskogee and Sallisaw campuses – has an enrollment between 15,000 to 16,000 students, said Anesa Hooper, marketing and public information coordinator.

“We offer training in a variety of career areas ranging from health care to heating and air and graphic design,” she said. “Our goal is to provide training for students to go to work. It’s in and out quicker. Also, students leave with a lot less debt.”

Roughly 65 to 70 percent of the technical school’s students are Native American, according to the tech center. Students range in age from 16 to late 50s, Hooper said, pointing to health care, HVAC and others as high-demand areas.

“We have businesses and industries that are hiring our students and putting them to work,” she said.

Classes begin in January and August. “In high schools, we start working with counselors as early as October for the next school year,” Hooper said.

Another option is the CN-administered Talking Leaves Job Corps, part of the national U.S. Department of Labor program.

Touted as a no-cost education and career technical training program, its goal is to help those ages 16 to 24 “improve the quality of their lives” in areas such as health care, finance and construction.

“All of our training programs are hands on,” the program promotes, “and you’ll get to practice your skills on the job in real work environments. When you graduate, you’ll have the skills and credentials you need to start your career.”

According to the national Job Corps, its education and job training programs have helped more than 2.6 million economically disadvantaged young Americans “master a trade.”

For more information about TLJC, call 918-456-9959 or visit talkingleaves.jobcorps.gov. To reach the Career Services office, call 918-453-5555 or email career-services-dept@cherokee.org. Call the ICTC at 918-456-2594 or visit ictctech.com.
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