September 10, 2012

The key to high-tech jobs

By: Larry Rulison

Source: Times Union

Local schools give graduates instant credibility, panel says

ALBANY — Whether you are young or old, the best way to get a job in the rising local high-tech economy may be through local educational institutions.

That was one of the major messages to those who attended the Tech Career Expo Monday at the University at Albany's SEFCU Arena.

The event, which was sponsored by the Times Union, the Center for Economic Growth, the UAlbany Alumni Association and Monster.com, drew hundreds of job-seekers. Dozens of local advanced manufacturing and technology companies exhibited, along with local higher-ed schools such as Hudson Valley Community College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Union Graduate College.

Susan Mehalick, a Times Union city desk editor, moderated a panel on educational opportunities in the high-tech economy. What the panel uncovered is that local schools — from two-year colleges to schools like UAlbany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering that offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees — have forged deep ties with companies like General Electric Co. and GlobalFoundries, providing instant credibility to graduates when they hit the job market.

And you don't need a Ph.D to succeed. Penny Hill, associate dean for HVCC's TEC-SMART facility in Saratoga County, said all 12 participants in the school's semiconductor manufacturing program had at least two job offers by March and many had three by the time they graduated later in the spring. That type of success rate has made the program, which prepares students for a clean room environment inside a computer chip factory, extremely popular.

"Right now we are at capacity, and we have a waiting list," Hill said.

The same can be said for the other side of the spectrum at the NanoCollege, which offers not only undergraduate degrees in nanotechnology, but also master's and doctorate degrees in the field, which applies to computer chip design and manufacturing as well as biotechnology and the creation of novel materials used in everything from batteries to wind turbines.

"All of our graduates are going right into work," said Robert Geer, vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer for the NanoCollege.

Even BOCES, which used to be known as a program for those who were not able to go on to higher education, is a great launching point, said Douglas Leavens, director of career and technical education for Washington, Saratoga, Warren, Hamilton and Essex BOCES.

Leavens said that BOCES used to be known as a "dead-end" program, but now secondary-level students who attend get work experience and are also encouraged to go on to community college or even higher. And their employers will often support them financially.

"We encourage all of our students to go on (for more school) because more education is better than less education," Leavens said. "We have to keep driving forward."

All of those on the panel also stressed that participating in internships and co-op programs while in school is almost as vital as the degree itself because of the work experience you get and connections that you make.

"Don't wait getting into industry until after you graduate," said Christina Murray, associate director of graduate admissions at RPI.