Quick Trip to a New Career

By Lisa Leigh Connors writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 3, 2004 | Go to article overview

Quick Trip to a New Career


Lisa Leigh Connors writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Mark Luzaitis has traded in spreadsheets for Sheetrock. After spending more than 12 years working as an accountant for several Fortune 500 companies and earning close to six figures, Mr. Luzaitis closed his briefcase and opened his toolbox to pursue a passion: running his own building development company and remodeling fixer- uppers.

Instead of working upwards of 70 hours a week on financial statements and board of trustees reports, he's now working for himself, gutting and remodeling homes and renting them out.

To help put additional skills under his belt, Luzaitis went back to school to earn a certificate in plan reading, estimating, wood framing, and masonry. The seven-week evening courses at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston didn't take too much of his time - or money.

Luzaitis is one of a growing number of Americans going back to school to learn a trade. The classes they're taking often last no more than a few weeks or months and are highly specific - programs ideally structured to offer a speedy transition into a clearly defined field of work.

From a police officer who wants to be a construction worker to a computer analyst studying to be a veterinary technician, today's trade schools are offering new opportunities to students - often career-changers - who perceive that a very specific set of skills will offer the best means of navigating today's job market.

Some decades ago, attending trade school often meant either going to beauty school or learning auto repair. Today's most popular trade schools, however, tend to offer everything from guitarmaking to emergency medical technology.

Driving this trend is the shift from a manufacturing economy to a service- and information-based one. In the next 10 years, 18 of the 20 fastest-growing job fields will require technical education or on- the-job training, from medical assistants to computer analysts, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the good news is that students studying trades are often learning from those well- equipped to teach - instructors working in the field.

"A lot of these noncredit courses are for people who have lost their middle-management jobs, and some of them can't get a job with the salary that they've been making," says Mildred Lee, assistant director of professional and continuing studies at Wentworth. "If you do HVAC or welding, you can get your foot in the door and make some money."

Work-related courses were the most prevalent form of lifelong learning, followed by personal-interest courses, according to a 2001 study by the National Center for Education Statistics. Participation in adult education rose by more than 13 percent from 1991 to 2001.

Some may want to work toward a higher position in their current job, change careers, or go into business for themselves.

In Reyes Allston's case, he wants to earn a four-year degree. He starts the architecture technology program at Massasoit Community College in Canton, Mass., in the fall. After jumping from one construction job to another after high school, he tired of hard labor. …

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