Talking Shop with Rich Payne, director of Career & Technology Center

Monday, August 10, 2009
Rich Payne is director of the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center. (Fred Lynch)

This week marks the beginning of school for the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center. Among the Business Today reporter Robyn Gautschy recently sat down with Rich Payne, director of the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center. The interview originally appeared in the July edition of Business Today, which can be ordered by calling 388-2781.

Q: What are the fastest-growing areas of study at the Career and Technology Center?

A: The electrical trades program, computer networking and IT programs are growing, and our medical area, in all aspects, is growing. We'll have three new programs coming up this next calendar year in health care.

Q: Are those areas indicative of career trends in Southeast Missouri?

I think they are. The medical arena in Cape Girardeau and this surrounding region is large, and also if you look at the electrical trades area, it's not just people who wire houses. Those who are good with electrical stuff are sought after in manufacturing, construction, commercial and residential. There are so many different facets and areas.

Q: Who are your students at the Career and Technology Center?

A: We have about 750 [high school] students who attend the school. We have about 160 post-secondary students in our adult training programs. We also average about 2,300 individuals who come through our nighttime training program in a semester. Those are very short term. It may be one day, a week long, or two weeks long. It depends on the program. Those programs are built upon a career: At the end of the program, what kind of job can I get with this training? In the community education sector, we offer courses for people in the community who want to upgrade their skills in whatever area.

Q: With fear of layoffs and unemployment rates soaring, are you seeing an increase in adult students?

A: Yes we are. With all the unemployment and dislocation of workers in the region, we're continuing to see a lot of those individuals seeking additional training, and through the state and federal government they can receive funding to assist with that. But they also know that in order to get the next job in their life they need to get some specific skills in order to be marketable in today's economy.

Q: What are some of those skills?

A: I think the skills that are needed for those careers are technical in nature. Students can receive training in a technical career and receive a [faster] return on the investment and get back in the job market much sooner with a technical career, no matter what it is. The technical arena has not been hit as much with unemployment.

Q: Why is it so important to offer both career and academic courses?

A: I think they go together. I think all programs can lead students into additional post-secondary training beyond high school, in a technical area and toward that degree, whether that degree be an associate's degree or four-year degree. If you're going to go on into employment or post-secondary education, you still have to have that same set and standard of core academic skills. If you don't have that standard of core academic skills, you're probably not going to be very successful.

With some of the programs we have in place with Mineral Area College, if students go through the majority of the technical programs at our school, they'll have 32 to 36 hours of community college credit before they even graduate from high school. So now in order to complete an associate's degree they need about 18 or 20 hours of general education. That makes them that much more marketable because now they hold the degree. They're not just certified in that technical field, they hold a degree in that area.

Q: Are you doing anything differently to prepare students for the tough job market?

A: We've done some things over the past several years to help them build their portfolio before they leave here with credentials that are recognized in the particular industry that they're going into. That's huge, because now they can walk in the door with a portfolio that can demonstrate they have this certain base of knowledge, whereas in the past they would walk out with some of the credentials but they wouldn't have all of those nationally recognized credentials like the WorkKeys Scores that we do.

Q: Can you tell me some specific examples?

A: Well, I'll give you welding, for example. They're going to have their certification and all their various welds they can do. AWS (American Welding Society) is a nationally recognized industry standard in welding. So if they can do a certain type of welding, then get certified by an inspector and an instructor, then they have that in their portfolio. They have their resume that shows all the various things they've done, student organizations, all those kinds of things. Also the WorkKeys Scores are recognized not only locally but across the country to show their proficiency in applied math, reading for information and locating information. Those are specific skills that are sought after in the world of work because students can read, but can students read and find the information within the reading? That's something we try to emphasize here.

Also, if they meet our standard of attendance, which is eight [absences] for the year, no exceptions, then they will receive what's called a Passport to the Future, and with that they'll receive a letter of recommendation from me personally, and also from their instructor. At the same time all our students who complete the program receive a certification from this institution that shows that they are competent in all the basic skills necessary for that particular industry. It puts them a notch above somebody else who's out there looking for that job. And that's what we try to do here, is to give our students a leg up on others in the workplace and in post-secondary education.

Q: What do you love about this job?

A: I like the uniqueness of this segment of education. Because all our students -- no matter what program, whether adults or secondary students or community education -- we are teaching students how to apply knowledge. They must learn to "do" here. Because if they can't "do," they're not going to be successful.

Q: Did you ever take career education courses when you were in school?

A: Nope. I'm about the most unhandy person. I did learn some things. I worked on construction for a few summers and one summer while I was a graduate assistant at SEMO and coaching football there, I worked out on the lines at Procter & Gamble and I learned how that industry operated and enjoyed it. But I guess those life experiences over time helped me appreciate technical education. I certainly appreciate it more. You won't find any human being out there that wouldn't say to you, "I wish I could do XYZ better." Do you wish you could be able to do some of your own electrical work at your house or apartment? Do you wish you could do your own handiwork? Automotive work? Grow your own plants and landscaping and horticulture? Do you wish you could do cabinet making? It wouldn't matter what segment you talk about, because even if a secondary student goes through our programs and doesn't seek out that particular career, they will always gain knowledge that they will use in the rest of their life. A lot of times we as human beings don't learn to do something until we're put in a situation where we have to do it. That's also why if you look at technical education, it's a service education. The service sector is the largest economic sector in the United States -- because maybe you don't want to do it, but you'll pay somebody to do it.

Most people don't look at career education the way I do, and I never did before, either. Some segments of the population do not value career education as much as we should. This is one thing I had a person tell me: What's the difference between a white-collar worker and a blue-collar worker? A white-collar worker takes a shower in the morning, and a blue-collar worker takes a shower in the afternoon. And if you think about it, it's the truth... In some blue-collar jobs, there's more money to be made than in some white-collar jobs. Plus, some white-collar jobs are the first to be getting the layoffs, and some blue-collar jobs won't be.

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