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Community college can lead to the right future for you

Community college can lead to the right future for you
“Community colleges undoubtedly provide the best pathway and support” to get into the middle class, says commentary writer Joe Klunder. (File Photo)

Whether rich or poor, providing for ourselves and our family is a common concern on our minds. Of course we also want to find work where we feel meaningfully engaged and are given a sense of accomplishment.

Middle skills jobs are the hot topic in the job market right now. Specifically, these jobs refer to those that require more training than a high school degree, but do not require a bachelor’s degree. In the context of Orange County, the fastest growing and best paid middle skills jobs are in allied health, information technology and advanced manufacturing. Reading industry reports shows that the growth rate for these jobs exceeds 10% annually, and sometimes is as high as 30%.

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With only two years of education and training, a person has a good chance of finding a job in a field with starting pay around $25 an hour. Because of the booming economy, high demand and short supply, a person has a much greater chance at finding a good fit and being appreciated for filling a needed labor gap.

Community colleges undoubtedly provide the best pathway and support. Regional accreditation ensures that they adhere to higher standards of service than for-profit colleges. Support services, such as academic and career counseling, ensure the student can see the big picture for personal and career development. Income-based tuition waivers can make such an education free.

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Although many people worry that taking on vocational training will fix them into a rigid pathway, the reality is much more flexible. Should these jobs ever be outsourced, and people are willing to move, they can likely become trainers and managers in places like South America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia. Speaking from experience — living and working in six foreign countries — I have observed that pay is usually greater than equivalent work back home, and disposable income and savings is even higher, given the lower cost of living in non-Western countries.

For those who also harbor a passion for reading diverse literature, analyzing research and discussion, you are perfectly able to simultaneously work on additional courses that can transfer to a four-year degree. I earned five extra associates degrees in different fields using online classes after work.

In fact, since allied health, information technology and advanced manufacturing provides real-world perspective, it actually may be an added benefit for someone applying for transfer to a top-notch public research university or selective private school and would provide direct pathways for advancement in a career in medicine, computer science or engineering, respectively.

At some point, it is wise to de-prioritize the need for rank, prestige and the feeling of exclusivity, and instead focus on good fit and community. The Career and Technical Education Department of Orange Coast College would be the best place to reach out to about your situation. At a personal level, I cannot praise the staff at Orange Coast College enough. I can honestly say they effect change.

Joe Klunder, who grew up in Newport Beach, now lives in Beijing.

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