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High Tech Leads in Hot Degrees

Girl working on computer
Photo courtesy of UTEP
As confusing as some college courses can be, choosing the right path of study can be the most confusing of all. Doing what you love is great, but knowing which jobs are in demand can be that deciding factor. If you’re lucky, you can do both.

Craig D. Thompson, associate director for Employer Relations at the University of Texas at El Paso works in the Career Services Department helping match students with employers. He says it’s important to find out what students want to do.

“We sit down and weigh their options – match up their interests with what is available and guide them in that direction,” Thompson said.

Computer technology Not surprisingly, computer technology tops the list for many students and prospective employers. “Technical areas are very, very hot,” Thompson said. “Any student who graduates from UTEP that has a technology background can get the job they want.”

UTEP’s College of Engineering’s technology-related programs include computer science, electrical and computer engineering and information technology.

“If it’s got a wire sticking out of it, a computer or a network – to include information security – it’s hot,” agreed Rik Villarreal, program director for microcomputer technology at Western Technical College.

Last year, there were 600 job orders sent to the college from employers within the field, according to Helen Garcia, director of career services at Western Tech. Garcia stressed the term “job order,” because it is not unheard of to have 50 job offers within a single order.

As hot as the demand is from El Paso employers for computer technology jobs, both UTEP and Western Tech said recruiters also include national and international companies.

Villarreal has seen a number of students leave El Paso for jobs abroad, such as Intel Corporation and the military at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., to work on unmanned-aerial vehicles and counter- improvised explosive device (IED) programs.

El Paso Community College (EPCC) has also stepped up to fill the need for computer-tech fueled jobs and careers. Not only does the school offer an array of programming language training and computer operating system certification, the information technology branch offers associate of applied science degrees in networking, security and computer programming.

Technology’s role in other fields
Good technology know-how is increasingly important to all fields. For example, Thompson said area school districts are looking for teachers in technical areas and teachers who know general technology – from Excel to iTunes Podcasts.

“I see a lot of technology work in the classroom. Technical expertise is very important [to educators],” Thompson said.

EPCC faculty members pride themselves on using the latest software in the professional administrative assistant program.

“We train our students using the latest technology … so once industry and small business move to the latest software, our students are ready,” said Linda Silva, professor and coordinator of the professional administrative assistant program.

Silva and other faculty members say administrative assistant careers are among the top 10 in both El Paso and throughout the nation.

“This field is growing, although we don’t see the enrollment right now and we’re working on marketing the program,” Silva said.

Another industry positively affected by new technology is sign language interpreting.

“We are one of the hottest career fields because of the new technology called video-relay services,” said Mary Mooney, coordinator of the sign language interpretation program at EPCC. “That puts a sign language interpreter and a computer mix so that deaf people in their homes – 24 hours a day and seven days a week – with unlimited ability can make telephone calls just like a hearing person can.”

According to Mooney, call centers for the hearing impaired have been set up in the area to fill the need, in turn creating more positions in every area of sign language interpreting. “El Paso has two centers, with a third looking to come to El Paso,” Mooney said. “They’re pulling all of their interpreters from other venues like school programs, hospitals and medical [places] into the video relay centers, and that’s creating another vacuum for people who need interpreters in their day-to-day lives out in the community.”

Beyond technology
Though computer-related fields may seem to be at the forefront, the demand for police officers, firefighters, accountants, healthcare professionals and automotive technicians is on the rise, according to Jaime Farias, instructional dean of education and occupational programs at EPCC, and other faculty members.

Farias said many of these types of transportable professions – like in the medical profession especially – are in demand from employers and students.

“You hear all the time about nursing shortages, and so forth,” Farias said. There’s always a long list of individuals trying to get into those programs, and they’re highly selective for GPA and things of that nature.”

“Criminal Justice is probably one of the main employment fields you can look at right now,” said Charles Williams, district-wide coordinator for the criminal justice program at EPCC. “Nationwide we have an extreme shortage for all types of criminal justice [candidates]. We don’t do law enforcement per se; we do criminal justice, so we’re looking at DEA, customs, all the federal services.”

Even though El Paso Police Academy, like in other places throughout the country, train cadets themselves, Williams said the criminal justice program is an advantageous place to start even if the candidate decides to go only in the direction of local law enforcement. El Paso PD alone, he said, is about 200 officers short right now.

“We don’t graduate police officers,” he said. “That’s what an academy is for. We give them career knowledge so that they can either decide to go into basic law enforcement with a city PD to go through their academy or they continue their education and go into a federal service – or maybe they want to go into the court aspect.

“Of course, it’s a demanding job and people don’t understand why we are so short,” Williams continued. “It’s because we’re not just hiring anybody. Criminal justice today is a very technical and demanding field in which you require education. Almost all agencies now require at least some college, with the majority of them requiring a four-year degree.”

Area fire stations, like the local police force, is also short on candidates. Frank Lujan, program coordinator for EPCC’s Fire Technology Academy, has received word that Fort Bliss is scheduled to open four new fire stations in the next three years, while White Sands Missile Range is opening one or two in the next two to three years.

The program itself, however, is not limited to training firefighters. Lujan explained his area of study has a vast number of certifications, such as code enforcement, building inspections and fire investigating.

“The opportunities in both the public sector and the private sector are out there – it’s astronomical,” Lujan said.

Mastering the field
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, master’s degrees across the country are up 150 percent since the 1970s, a growth that’s twice as fast as bachelor and doctorate programs. In the 2004-2005 school year, American students earned 574,618 master’s degrees.

UTEP’s Thompson confirmed that today many employers visiting El Paso are looking for master’s graduates.

“It depends on where you want to go, but you’re more marketable,” Thompson said.

The Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) at UTEP is a popular track. Thompson says he’s seen a small trend with under grads majoring in fields like technology round out their education and skills set with an MBA.

Whether it’s degrees, certifications or both, a wide range of specialized areas of study exists in El Paso to fulfill nearly every pursuit out there. Some paths result in a thicker pocketbook, but the trick may just be the act of finding the greatest utility for your interests.

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– Stephen Baack

El Paso Inc. Citing Internet Resources. [Online] Available, December 14, 2008.