Schools, businesses training for high-tech jobs

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New technology has the potential to eliminate some jobs, although that same progress can lead to the creation of other positions, such as when the typewriter was replaced by the computer, which helped propel the IT industry.

“Technology creates new and different jobs, and often higher-paying jobs,” said Dave Jeffrey, president of JPM Prototype & Mfg. Inc., and chairman of the board for Colorado Advanced Manufacturing Association South.

Jeffrey said that some people might be training for careers that could be obsolete in a decade or so.

Debbie Sagen, vice president of Workforce Development at Pikes Peak Community College, said schools do their best to avoid that problem.

“We’re preparing students for an unknown future,” she said. “It’s a huge challenge. We try to look way out in the future to help students stay relevant. We want to see what sticks, not what’s trendy. …

“Because so much is unknown, we teach skills that cross over lines with jobs and teach the critical thinking skills all adults need. For instance, we teach them just one software program but give them the skills to learn other programs. We teach technique.”

Sagen said the academic community also helps students (and local companies) through its industry advisory boards — local industry leaders meeting at least twice a year to review curriculum.

“In manufacturing we’re seeing consolidation, but we see better, higher-paying jobs for the people who are left — and those are the people we’re training at PPCC,” Sagen said. “We just changed our electronics program and now call it the robotics program; it’s become how technology influences the manufacturing process.”

Jeffrey said people should keep up with changes in technology, but shouldn’t panic about how it may affect jobs.

“The whole idea of technology eliminating jobs — I just don’t buy it,” he said.

Changing times

Doug Rhoda is CEO of Diversified Machine Systems, which makes computer-controlled machines for factories. He previously had a robotic welding business in Fort Collins.

“We’re on the cutting edge of technology,” said Rhoda, who serves on the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC’s Economic Development Advisory Council. “I believe we’re making factories safer and machines are replacing really dangerous jobs, and bringing higher quality and more productivity. But that’s also creating new industries, and elevating some types of jobs.”

Rhoda said his company “is hiring like crazy” and is proactive with internships and creating a hiring pipeline through six colleges: PPCC, UCCS, Pueblo Community College, Denver’s Metro State University, Colorado State University in Fort Collins and CSU-Pueblo.

The Colorado Workforce Development Council released its annual Colorado Talent Pipeline Report on Dec. 22. It said, in part: “The workplace in Colorado will continue to change, with some jobs being automated and many requiring increasing levels of technological literacy. Employers highly value technical and professional competencies, and fields experiencing job growth are requiring high-level cognitive and social skills.”

Rhoda said history is a great teacher and even though many jobs that were prominent a century ago — such as telephone and elevator operators, and farmers — are no longer prevalent, the job industry keeps evolving.

“A lot of jobs have been displaced,” he said, “but unemployment is still low.”

Prepping for future

Bill Tomeo is the cybersecurity instructor at Early College High School & Career Pathways in Colorado Springs School District 11. His mission is threefold: prepare students for jobs in the IT field immediately after high school, get them certified, and help those bound for college earn college credits toward a degree that will land them higher-level cybersecurity jobs.

The IT Essentials class taught by Tomeo offers six college credits at PPCC, including a 200-level class, and the school district pays for the students’ CompTia certification test.

“These students get a real-world industry certification and are job ready,” Tomeo said. “And we provide job shadowing and paid summer internships.”

Does Tomeo, who owned or worked for tech companies for 35 years, think this education could become obsolete?

“If you’re in technology, it’s continuous learning,” he said. “With cyber, the level of complexity continues to change. The types of threats continue to change. We build in problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.”

D-11 is part of the PPCC CyberPrep program along with Harrison School District 2, Widefield School District 3, Fountain-Fort Carson School District 8 and Academy School District 20, Tomeo said.

Gabriel Patton, a senior in Tomeo’s class, said the information he’s learning is versatile.

“I can use it at home to be more secure or use it in any office environment to help make me more hire-able,” Patton said.

Patton was also a full-time D-11  intern last summer.

“We upgraded all the computers and set the security settings in the district,” he said. “That was a nice resumé-builder and it was good to find out I already had more than enough skill to get hired for a lot of jobs.”