C.R. Adams wanted to work with his hands. He graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1999 with a degree in communications, but the jobs he found in his field weren’t satisfying to him. “At no point did I like what I was doing,” Adams says. “I wanted to do something else.”
Kally Fellers is a young mom whose daughter was born with a feisty spirit and achondroplasia dwarfism. The doctors warned Kally and her husband that their 2-1/2-year-old daughter would probably have to be encouraged to relearn how to walk after surgery to straighten her bowed legs and nearly three months in casts, but the day they removed the final casts she walked out of the hospital holding her mom’s hand. At night, however, the toddler cried because her legs ached, and Kally longed to soothe her pain. Today, she can.
Sherry Joseph wanted to help people feel good about themselves. “One day I went to have my hair done,” Joseph recalls, “and it made me feel good about who I was in a way I had never felt before. I wanted to do that for others.”
Adams, Fellers, and Joseph do not know each other and live in different parts of the state, but they achieved a common goal—getting a satisfying, good-paying job without a college degree.
Career pathways with apprenticeships
C.R. Adams is an electrician with Townsley Electrical Contractors Inc. in Independence. He says his job is “very gratifying.”
“The way I put it is at the end of the day, I can flip a switch and people can see.”
Adams never felt that satisfaction before, although he had good jobs in prestigious companies such as Humana and Fidelity. After considering several options, he decided to look into being an electrician like his wife’s father.
After a few discussions with his father-in-law, Adams enrolled in the Enzweiler Trade Program offered through the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky. The apprenticeships, like all such programs, allowed him to learn the craft while still receiving a paycheck.
From day one, Adams was learning about electricity in the classroom and on the job.
“Having been through four years of college, the course work seemed like college-level work to me,” Adams recalls. “Some of the other guys expected it to be easier, but it wasn’t. Our instructor, Eddy Moore, told us his goal was not to fail us but to make certain we could do the work. And that is what he did.”
During the four-year program, Adams and his classmates worked under the supervision of a licensed electrician during the day and attended class two nights a week. Adams says the classes and the work reinforced each other.
“We started with simple things like pulling wire,” Adams recalls. “A licensed electrician would tell you, ‘This is the wire you need. Take this wire and run it through these studs to this place. Now secure the wire within this many inches of the box and every so many feet depending on the code.’ You are expected to ask why is it like that and they tell you. Then you go to class, and they go over it again. That repetition makes it click. Then you move on to progressively more difficult tasks.”
Adams says he liked the apprenticeship approach because he could “put into practice what I learned in school.”
“Apprenticeships are a tried-and-true method,” the electrician says. “People have learned this way literally for centuries. The combo of field training and book learning is just good. In my opinion, it is best for the industry that we have people of competency in the field. They don’t just put a wire into a receptacle; they know why they put the wire there.”
Thomas Napier, director of education and professional development for the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky, is also a strong believer in apprenticeships.
“Apprenticeships suit people who like to learn hands-on and become experts in a practical way,” he says. “Through an apprenticeship, you immerse yourself and find great joy and pride in your work…The entire idea is to become extremely good at what you do. You learn to be a problem solver. A lot of folks in college learn a skill and learn the application later. With an apprenticeship, you are learning all the time.”
Napier says apprenticeships also “encourage companies to grow with people and people to grow with companies.” Coming up through the apprenticeship program builds loyalty with a company.
And in case you are wondering, women are increasingly represented in apprenticeship programs. Napier says, nationally, one-third of the students are women. In Kentucky it’s 10 to 15 percent, half the national average.
Kentucky’s Secretary of Labor is another believer. In fact, Mark S. Brown learned to be a pipe fitter through an apprenticeship program. He says there is a big push at the federal level to increase the number of apprenticeships.
“The legislation is often referred to as career pathways,” Brown says. “The U.S. Department of Labor says there are more than 1,000 apprenticeship occupations. (In Kentucky there are 158 registered programs.) We need to train people for those jobs. Europe, especially Germany, has been successful with internship programs for hundreds of years.”
At the helm of the state-sponsored apprenticeship efforts is Mike Donta, deputy commissioner of Workplace Standards and supervisor of apprenticeship programs for Kentucky.
Donta says Kentucky is partnering with several entities to create apprenticeships, among them the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), industry groups, the Workforce Investment Board, One-Stop Career Centers, and the Kentucky Association of Manufacturing. He says the cabinet is trying to determine the needs of industries in the state and then put the training programs in place.
“Learning a craft is not an alternative career choice,” he insists. “It’s a career choice. Students come out of a four- to five-year program, have no debt, and have earned income throughout that time.”
The specialty school path
An apprenticeship is certainly not the only route to a good job without a college degree. Numerous professions have schools designed specifically for a particular occupation.
Kally Fellers, a massage therapist, went through a 600-hour program at the Natural Health Institute (now Genesis Career College) in Bowling Green to earn her license and is now the campus director there.
“Our courses are designed to prepare students to take the national exam that Kentucky requires for a license,” says Fellers. “The courses cover different techniques, anatomy, kinesiology, and basic psychology. Students are ready for a spa or medical setting when they get through.”
Eighty miles north in Elizabethtown, Jennifer Goodin, academic director for Empire Beauty School, says the cosmetology program there is similarly comprehensive.
“During the 1,800-hour program, you learn everything from hair to facials, manicures, and pedicures,” Goodin says. The school also provides instruction in how to build a salon, management skills, and how to find a job. The three-week classes run back to back.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average cosmetologist earns more than $26,000 a year, with 10 percent earning above $40,000. The National Accrediting Commission on Cosmetology Arts and Sciences (NACCAS) puts average yearly income at $30,00-48,000. (For more on wages, see “What Will I Earn” below.)
Sherry Joseph, now manager of Great Clips in Radcliff, served by Nolin Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation, is a graduate of Empire’s program.
“The training is very thorough,” Joseph says of the program. Although she now manages 10 stylists, Joseph continues to do hair because she enjoys it so much. She is also currently enrolled as an apprentice student instructor at Empire to become an educator there.
“I continue to meet new people,” she says. “I enjoy each individual.”
Although she is talking about cosmetology, Joseph could be discussing any of the programs when she says: “You get out what you put in. You are going to learn something new every day.”
WHAT WILL I EARN?
If you want to know the average wages you can expect for a particular profession, go online to www.bls.gov. This takes you to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and a wealth of information.
There are numerous ways to find the wages for an occupation. One is to go to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (under Publications) and click on the type of industry and then the specific job you are interested in. You’ll not only find typical wages but also information about how to prepare, what the job is like, how many jobs are available, and a future forecast. Students may also want to check out the Career Information for Students. There’s even a new section for green jobs.
Another resource is www.braintrack.com. There you will find the median salary, the number of people employed and unemployed in a field, the natural abilities you’ll need to succeed, the specific skills and knowledge required, common work conditions, job activities, and even work values.
Finding the right apprenticeship program
At www.kentuckyapprenticeship.com, you can find a list of all the apprenticeship programs offered in Kentucky, along with contact information. Just look for the box on the left side of the page and click on “current apprenticeship programs.” You can also get the forms you need to enroll in a program. If you are an employer interested in starting an apprenticeship program, you’ll also find what you need to complete the process.
Finding the right certification or licensure program
Many professions require you to obtain a certificate or license to work in that field. This can be as diverse as real estate agents, occupational therapists, or estheticians (people providing facials). The best way to find out about the license or certification needed is to contact the association or governing body for that profession.
Here are two examples to give you an idea:
• Real estate agents (license required)
The Kentucky Real Estate Commission is charged with the regulation, examination, and licensing of Kentucky real estate sales associates and brokers. Contact them online at www.krec.ky.gov, 10200 Linn Station Road, Suite 201, Louisville, KY 40223, or (888) 373-3300.
• Pharmacy technicians (certification preferred)
Certification is achieved by meeting the eligibility requirements and passing the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam (PTCE). The PTCB certification program is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). For more information, go online to www.ptcb.org, Pharmacy Technician Certification Board, 2215 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20037, or (800) 363-8012.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: >FINDING THE RIGHT CAREER OR PROGRAM
For help in learning what field, school, or program
is right for you, go to customize schooling for 15 questions
from the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance
Authority to use in evaluating and choosing a
school or program. Also learn about two nationally
recognized certification programs you can
earn to demonstrate your abilities and readiness
to be hired by employers.