Professional Certification From a Community College: A Solution for the Unemployed

10/31/2012 06:43 pm ET | Updated Dec 31, 2012
  • Tom Snyder President of Ivy Tech Community College
Flickr: leonshishman

While unemployment is now 7.8 percent, the fact remains that there are still more than nine million people jobless -- and millions more under-employed. The key to getting people back to work is education and re-training -- and this is where community colleges excel.

Older workers with family responsibilities and reduced income don't have the luxury of going back to college full-time to acquire new, marketable skills. That's why certification programs at community colleges are the ideal solution. These programs fast track workers into a new career usually in less than a year and often for as little as $2,000 in tuition.

Many community colleges certification programs have been set up in conjunction with local businesses. Community colleges are tailoring their programs to regional economies and industries in order to graduate students who can step right in, contribute to economic growth, and make a good living. The manufacturing sector, for example, increasingly needs highly skilled workers and often works in partnership with a community college to provide the required training.

The most popular certificate programs prepare student for jobs in health care, manufacturing, business and technology. At Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, for instance, there are more than 50 certification programs providing training in welding, EMS, medical billing and solar instillation, among others. Like many community colleges, Ivy Tech provides customizes class schedules for its certification programs that take into account the demands older students face such as childcare.

What should one look for in a certification program? First, determine if the program was set up to address the existing need of a local corporation to train workers to fill current open job positions. If there are wind turbines in your area, chances are the local community college will offer a certificate for repairing them. That's the case with Mitchell Technical Institute in South Dakota that offers a one-year certificate qualifying students for work in this field.

Equally important is how well students from a particular community college perform on industry or state-wide certification tests. A low pass rate indicates that the program isn't rigorous enough to enable one to complete for job openings. Alvin College outside of Houston, for example, excels in preparing students in its two-year court reporter certification program with an 80 percent pass rate for the national licensing exam. A court reporter can earn an average of $60,000 a year.

Good certification programs also place students in the field as interns or apprentices for on-the-job training. At South Dakota's Lake Area Technical Institute future airplane mechanics work on a FedEx jet recently retired from service.

The ultimate test of a certificate program is how many students get jobs in their chosen field. Applicants should search out programs that have job placement rates of at least 75 percent.

The fact remains that many displaced workers will never find another job in their field because technology and global competition have eliminated or outsourced those jobs permanently. These workers have to be open-minded about re-training and certification programs at community colleges that now offer one of the best and fastest paths to employment.

Tom Snyder is the President of Ivy Tech, the nation's largest singly-accredited community college system. He is the author of "The Community College Career Track: How to Achieve the American Dream without a Mountain" of Debt (Wiley)