By RICK CURL of The Record Staff (Dunn, NC)
For anyone who has ever given the least little thought to a career in the tech industry, there's a program being offered at Central Carolina Community College in Lillington which might, at the very least, grab your curiosity. Throw in the fact there's not enough graduates to fill the jobs, the possibilities are enormous.
"The industry used to hire PhD's to do this, it's very expensive to hire PhD's," said visiting professor Dr. Chrys A. Panayiotou, from Indian River Community College in Fort Pierce, Fla. "There are not enough schools to teach these skills. Gary's (Beasley) is one of the oldest in the country and they have been doing this since 1987."
Dr. Panayiotou was in town for a visit at the Lillington campus at the invitation of Mr. Beasley, who has been teaching at the program since he retired from the industry after 30 years.
It's a program that can lead to a lucrative career. Many grads see paychecks upwards of $60,000 annually or even higher, if they're willing to put in the effort.
"If a student is good at algebra and is willing to work at it, there's no reason they shouldn't be able to complete the program," Mr. Beasley said. "I would estimate that nearly 100 percent of those students who graduate the program can find work in the industry. It takes a desire to be a problem solver and a desire to do the work needed, but there's no reason why a student shouldn't graduate and go on to better things."
The program has two tiers of education, the first year revolves around electronics and the second around the use of lasers.
John LaVere teaches the first year students all of the basics of electronic theory and function as well as using many other tools. He says both years are a challenge, but one which can be overcome.
"It's a challenge," he said. "It's kind of a heavyweight, fast-paced education."
First-year student Michael Murray says while there are some elements to the program which will put your mind to work, its not anything so complex it can't be achieved by anyone who is putting in the effort.
"I would say from learning math and the numbers it's not very difficult," he said. "It's just a lot of hard work. And it's constantly learning something. It's just a lot of information, not necessarily difficult information."
One of the major issues plaguing the industry revolves around potential students not being aware of one, the opportunity to learn a very high tech job and two being aware it's available in our area.
According to Dr. Panayiotou, that's not an uncommon problem nationwide. He says getting the word out to potential students the chance to learn how to fill those jobs exists, is a priority.
"There are so many jobs, the problem we have is getting the word out and bringing young people in and getting them interested," he said.
Mr. LaVere says there are many success stories related to completing the program.
He recalled two students, one who went from a manual labor position and the other went from a waitress position, to bigger and better things because of the program.
"One of my second year students, he's flying around servicing laser equipment," Mr. LaVere said. "Before he joined the program, he and his dad were grave diggers. We had a young lady who graduated a couple of years ago, she's out in San Diego doing laser tech work and she was working as a member of a wait staff in Newton Grove."
Dr. Panayiotou is also a principle investigator related to the Laser-tec NSF ATE Grant, which helps fund schools and programs like the one at CCCC. Funding that has aided the program into becoming one of the best of its kind in the country.
"We have a good portion of the grant that is used to take students to San Francisco for a major exposition, it's used to teach, it's used to buy materials for us," Mr. Beasley said. "It's used for recruiting. So we get funding to help support our program and raise it to another level."
Central Carolina Community College has been providing companies which use lasers as a part of their services, graduates for many years. The program can lead graduates to lucrative jobs after graduation. Here, laser instructor Gary Beasley watches as former student Steven Coulbourne enter data after demonstrating the use of a new laser the school received to students. DAILY RECORD PHOTO/RICK CURL