As Tulsans join fellow Americans around the country "celebrating" Labor Day, with a long weekend and end of Summer cookouts, the fact there are fewer career opportunities has put a damper on some parties.
So as the economic recovery slows, some Tulsans are taking their futures in their own hands, trying a different approach by going back to school.
"When the economy is bad, educational institutions traditionally do well because people either out of a job or with cut back job hours start looking for other opportunities," said Kara Gae Neal, superintendent and CEO of Tulsa Technology Center.
Even with the state's unemployment rate at 6.9 percent for the month of July, the number of people enrolling at local educational facilities is continuing to climb. After doors opened for the fall semester at Tulsa Community College campuses, the administration was stunned as they saw the largest fall enrollment numbers in the college's 41-year history with 20,042 students. That is an enrollment increase of 858 students from this time last year, said Leah Harper, TCC's media relations specialist.
Much of this increase can be seen in TCC's health programs, said Midge Elliott, TCC's dean of health sciences. Enrollment for certified nursing assistant and home health certifications have doubled in the last year, resulting in three extra classes just for non-traditional students working toward CNA certification. Medical terminology and medical laboratory technician classes are also already filled.
Caregivers in long-term care and acute care facilities such as hospices, nursing homes and hospitals are in high demand, said Lisa Watkins, TCC's associate dean of nursing. Students have the ability to get CNA certification and get back to work after a matter of weeks through the college's course.
"People are seeing the nursing shortage and the demand for health occupations and realizing there is a need in those areas," Elliott said. "We expect to continue to see a high demand across the nation."
To meet the needs for the growing health programs, Elliott said TCC will continue to expand with the growing number of students. A new health information technology course will begin in late September.
Tulsa Tech has also seen this increase in its health sciences center after it opened with 700 students in spring 2009. The programs are now full with approximately 900 students looking to begin or further careers in the health industry, Neal said.
But health classes are not the only areas where Tulsa Tech students are opening their books to gear up for a new career path.
"People train where the jobs are," said Tony Heaberlin, Tulsa Tech's director of marketing communications. "It's no secret that health careers are booming, but manufacturing is starting to take a turn, and aviation is taking a turn."
Tulsa Tech's numbers have also taken a turn since the beginning of the recession with 676 more secondary applications and 516 more adult applications since 2008. A portion of the newcomers to Tulsa Tech are people who lost jobs in a failing industry and are looking for a new career path, Neal said.
"We have a growing number of (people with) two and four-year degrees coming back to Tulsa Tech because they can't get jobs with this economy," she said.
And even those who have yet to begin their career paths are taking steps to ensure job placement. Through concurrent enrollment, some high school students train through Tulsa Tech to be able to pay their way through college after graduation.
At one Tulsa Tech campus, a number of high school students were able to graduate high school with an associate's degree in hand.
Adults who never did graduate from high school are looking at the recession as an opportunity to head back into the classroom, Neal said. After creating new computerized learning centers, or Success Centers, at each of Tulsa Tech's campuses this past October, more than 500 people have visited these programs, many of them in pursuit of their GED.
Workforce Oklahoma, which works in conjunction with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, is also seeing a number of people from all educational backgrounds asking for help. These career centers provide anything from free Internet access and résumé software to job readiness workshops and career consultations to help people get back on their feet, said Ronald Julian, Workforce Oklahoma workforce specialist.
Although services through Workforce Oklahoma were available before Tulsa was hit with climbing unemployment rates, a growing number of people are learning about job opportunities through career counselors and job postings on its website. Services and training needed depend on the client and their background, Julian said. Even those who have been in one industry for years can use assistance.
"In our job readiness workshops, we do mock interviews and offer résumé help," he said. "If you got laid off after working for a company for 25 years, you sometimes don't know how to do that anymore."
Whether it be through résumé help or through a complete change in career paths, a changing economy is demanding a change in people's choices.
"We're seeing people get smart about their future," Neal said.
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