Education and training after high school come in many forms, whether it be at a four-year college or university, a two-year community college, a for-profit training school, an adult vocational school or with a labor union. Some of the coolest careers are launched through community college programs. You can shape a career in glass blowing at Salem Community College or learn to be a pilot at Mercer County Community College. Through an apprenticeship, you can learn a trade while you earn, and you can launch a great career through corporate training programs at large companies like McDonald's.
Jessica Brandsness, a 2001 graduate of Matawan Regional High School, took a job with Bayshore Community Health Services right after graduation. Now she's using the company's tuition reimbursement plan to attend nursing school at Brookdale Community College and plans to go for an advanced nursing degree at Monmouth University.
The key is to realize that you have options and you can find the mix of college and training that is right for your career goals. "It's not about college versus jobs, it's about jobs and the appropriate education for those jobs," explains Carl Van Horn, executive director of the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers in New Brunswick. The heart of workforce development is helping people find the jobs that are right for them. "When you're thinking of going to college, post-secondary school, apprenticeships, whatever, you should at least start with some goal in mind. That will make your involvement a much more successful and efficient path, as opposed to just wandering around."
Take a look around, talk with your school counselor, and you'll discover innovative training programs that can help you launch really great careers. Employers are finding creative ways to attract more qualified workers. Case-in-point: PSE&G Services, the utility company, has launched a two-year Energy Utility Technology Degree Program that is helping the company attract diverse talent into entry-level positions within its New Jersey electric and gas operations.
The degree's coursework combines regular classroom training at Mercer County Community College and Essex County College, with technical apprentice-level training at PSE&G's Training Center in Edison. It also includes paid summer internships that gives students the hands-on experience they need for a position as an entry-level technician in the utility industry.
Nevdon Hylton, 21, is one of 34 students who interned with PSE&G's Technology Degree Program this summer. He worked as a substation mechanic at the company's Moorestown location. "I had certain responsibilities, like doing three-point tests and checking circuit breakers," says Nevdon, who graduated from Trenton Central High School in 2000. "I work right beside the substation mechanics, who are there to guide me. If I have any questions I just ask them."
Nevdon has already completed his two-year Electrical Engineering Technology degree at Mercer County Community College, and will graduate with a two-year associate's Energy Utility Technology Degree this fall. He is currently enrolled at New Jersey Institute of Technology to finish up further work toward a full Electrical Engineering degree. "When I finish my degree in one year, I would like to pursue a career at PSE&G," says Nevdon. "I would like to go with the electrical engineering side of the company. This program shows you a variety of areas in the company. It gives everybody a better feel of what is and is not good for them. The guys I work with are all willing to teach you everything they know. It's an ongoing learning experience."
As you start to think about what you want to do after high school, remember that the path to a fabulous career needn't always start with four years of college. Really think about what you want to do with your life, and gear your training accordingly. "There are kids who get out of Rutgers who didn't have the faintest idea why they were here and what they are going to do with what they've learned," notes Van Horn of the Heldrich Center. "Somebody said they had to go to college and they knew it was a good time, did well in high school so they got in. They roll along toward graduation day and then say, 'What do I do now? I guess I'll go to a job fair.' I'm not saying all the students are like that, but a whole bunch of them are just going along with the flow. I'm not asking people to tell students not to go to college. I'd just like them to make informed decisions."