The scent of change is on the breeze…

Many of you will remember my long job search, which ended last June when I landed my current job. You may remember, too, that my search had been focused outside my current field in commercial electrical construction, and that I had been considering a return to school in some form, to increase my employability in another, hopefully related, field.

The reasons I had been looking outside my current field remain valid: Construction — at least the way we practice it today in the U.S. — is in a race to the bottom. When all jobs go to the lowest bidder, wages are pressured downward, productivity is pressured upward; quality and safety get short shrift. As a master electrician with almost nine years in the trade, I'm "topped out". That is, my hourly wage is at the highest point I can reasonably expect it to be, and the raises I will see from here on out, percentage-wise, will get smaller and smaller. Historically speaking, I can expect the raises to be outpaced by inflation, so my real wages will be dropping from this point forward. There are some jobs available in management, but the fact of the matter is that I am not an ideal candidate for these jobs, nor do I really want to pursue them. The stress levels are just too high to make it worth my while. Jobs in the public sector continue to be attractive, but the current political and economic environment make those somewhat more risky than they once were.

That said, I'm not content to be "topped out", in wage or in career development. I need my work to be a challenge. I need to be constantly growing in my career. So I started looking elsewhere. When I started my current job, I felt like I needed to focus on that for a time. I needed an emotional break from a long and taxing job search; I needed to rest under the blessing of a good job with a fair wage.

The time has come again, for a variety of reasons, for me to begin considering what's next for me and my family. Early last June (2010), I stumbled onto a wind technician training program at Crowder College in Neosho, MO, just a few miles away from our home. I spoke to an instructor in the program, who was very positive about my prospects. Unfortunately, it was past the deadline to apply for Federal student aid for the fall semester of 2010. I got my current job just a week or two later, and that's where we left it. A couple of weeks ago, we dusted that idea off again.

Crowder College has three options available for someone interested in wind power generation: a wind technician certificate, an Associate of Applied Arts in Wind Technology and an Associate of Applied Science in Wind Technology. Since I already hold a B.S. degree and have a great deal of workforce experience in a related field, I should be well on my way to completing whichever of the three I should choose. Fortuitously, Crowder has implemented some changes in their program in the intervening year since I last looked at it. Many of their classes are now available on a "flex" basis, or online, allowing me to continue working full-time while pursuing a certificate or degree. Tuition rates at Crowder are… well, they're ridiculously cheap, as any of you who have priced online or traditional degree programs can see. All of those things put together mean that I could finish a training program in a relatively short period of time (as little as one semester, as many as four), for little or no additional debt, hopefully while continuing to be gainfully employed full-time. [With our current project's expected completion looming this summer, though, there's no guarantee I won't see a pink slip at that time.]

It is not yet clear to me how good my job prospects might be upon completion of one of these training programs. That is one of the primary topics I intend to take up with the faculty I'll be meeting with tomorrow (Monday) afternoon when I visit the school to tour the facilities and talk about my options. One thing that is almost certain is that, upon completion of a program, the jobs for which I'll be a candidate will require us to move.That presents its own set of challenges, of course. I suppose we'll cross that bridge as we come to it.