By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
David Dunkle, Director of Economic Development, Workforce and Career Education at North Florida Community College, was one of those students who hated school. His mother prayed that he would graduate and not drop out.
His mother’s prayers were answered; he managed to graduate and join the Air Force, ending up in Montana. When he came back, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill to get his A.A. Degree at NFCC, and then on to FSU for a degree in information management.
There was just one problem: he hated it.
“I had never taken an interest inventory,” he told the Kiwanis Club of Madison. “I had never taken a skills inventory.”
College isn’t a good fit for everyone, and not every career out there requires a four-year degree.
“Think about who you are and what you take an interest in,” he said. Those who are not really sure what they want, where their interests lie or what skills they want to develop, or those who don’t have any real goals in mind when they embark on a college career may find that they’re just coasting along, wasting time in something they have no real interest in and racking up student loan debt. Or, they may hit a roadblock – college algebra (the roadblock Dunkle mentioned for himself) or some other required class that is too tough a nut to crack, causing them to give up and drop out in frustration, ending up in a minimum wage job under a crushing debt of student loans.
Dunkle acknowledges that he himself was very lucky to have ended up where he is today, and that some people do find it worthwhile to get a four-year degree in, say, elementary education (just to cite one example), because it is something they are genuinely interested in and will find rewarding in spite of the traditionally low pay for most educators.
On the other hand, in today’s economy, people do need more than a high school education if they don’t want to end up in a minimum wage job.
“You now need skills beyond high school,” he said. But there are alternatives to a four-year college degree that will lead to viable careers, even in today’s economy. Many occupational certifications take one year or less to complete, for a fraction of what a bachelor’s degree costs. The average investment for a certification program is about $3,500. 27 percent of people with less than two years of college credit are now earning more than people with bachelor’s degrees.
His vision for NFCC is strengthening the career/tech options at the school. The school has A.A. and A.S. options, “but a lot of kids are not academic. A lot of kids just don’t like school.”
For those students, career-tech is great option. They can learn a marketable skill set and have “a career in a year.”
Some examples of the career/tech options he mentioned include: network security tech (including certified “ethical hackers” who are paid to probe a security program and find its weak points), automation and production tech/manufacturing, hydraulics and pneumatics, welding and health information tech.
The tech programs are third-party certified and highly recognized, and the certification credentials are recognized nationwide.
In describing how these programs fed into workforce development, he used the health information tech as an example. With all the new rules, regulations and other changes coming down the pike in the healthcare field, including the push to change medical records from paper to electronic, doctors’ offices, health care workers, patients and the community in general will benefit from someone who can coordinate all these new changes, bring everything up-to-date and keep it that way.
“We have to have the vision of how this will benefit the people and the community,” said Dunkle. “An industry looking to relocate will look for a work-ready work-force.”
The certification programs also have to be broad enough – like the welding and production automation programs – to serve Madison and the entire six county district served by NFCC.
The programs will also emphasizes “soft skills,” that are necessary for success in the workplace; skills such as being on time, teamwork, communicating effectively with supervisors and coworkers and taking directions.
The focus will be on the certification programs and the specific skill sets, but there might be those students who will find that they want to branch off into an A.A. or an A.S. degree. One example of this might be taking the welding certification course and going into a fabrication engineering degree.
“Many of the programs will articulate into an A.S. degree,” he said. At first, students may want to just get some skills and get into the workforce, but they can always go back.
Other states are now beginning to look at Florida’s workforce, at the way it’s stacked and latticed, and the way certification programs are interconnected and can feed into the workforce and into degree programs that directly benefit both the students and the community.
“Compared to Florida, other states are completely discombobulated,” said Dunkle. Florida and NFCC are out in front in a lot of ways, getting students ready for the new economic reality and the workforce demands of their community.