Lower Burrell, Manor Township trade schools see more interest in career training, adult education

November 26, 2017 GMT

Charles Sanders of Leechburg wanted to get a job associated with the medical field but, at age 48, going away to a four-year school wasn’t practical.

Sanders decided to attend Career Training Academy in Lower Burrell, and now he is nearing the end of an 18-month program that will yield an associate degree in medical billing/coding.

Adults in the Alle-Kiski Valley are heading back to classes to acquire more training in a variety of fields and improve an established career, or to learn about a profession that doesn’t require an expensive college degree.

Career Training Academy and Lenape Technical School in Manor Township say they are seeing more interest in their adult education programs.

“My wife is a nurse,” Sanders said. “I wanted to go back to school and get a job associated with the medical field.”

Career Training Academy President Kim Rassau said she is seeing more students like Sanders.

“More places are requiring training,” Rassau said, and, if there is a skills gap to go into a field, individuals often need more schooling.

“Some prefer the billing and coding program, but others prefer programs that get one into direct patient care and advanced care, too,” she said.

Among the courses offered at Career Training Academy are dental assistant, massage therapy, medical assistant and phlebotomy technician.

Enrollment there is 187.

Christina Seyler, 37, of Butler has been raising her children and wanted to get back into the workforce as a dental assistant.

“I wanted some kind of education,” Seyler said. “I’ve been with my kids for 11 years. I googled schools and came up with this one.”

Seyler is in her final weeks of classroom work before she begins her externship — working in an actual dentist’s office.

“The school is what I thought it would be,” Seyler said. “It’s a great thing to get trained for the job without a lot of ‘fluff.’ I don’t have time for that.”

Basic tuition at Career Training Academy for a 10- to 12-month course like Seyler’s costs $12,400.

Additional fees for things such as lab work, student supplies, the built-in certificate/diploma program and other items raise the cost to $15,228.

One medical field attracting students is phlebotomy, which deals with patient blood tests. At Career Training Academy, basic tuition for phlebotomists’ training is $7,910 for the seven- to nine-month course and additional fees bring the total to $10,419.

Lenape Tech’s programs

“Sometimes, you pay to have a degree at a four-year school, and it doesn’t work out,” said Kelly Kirsch, coordinator of Lenape’s adult education program. “Many of our courses are employer-mandated.”

Opened in 1967 for high school students in the Freeport Area, Leechburg Area, Armstrong and Apollo-Ridge school districts, Lenape has offered adult education classes in the health care and building trades fields for about 25 years.

“Our enrollment has stayed the same, but the requests for career classes has changed,” Kirsch said. “Since the fall of 2015, we’ve added courses in heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration (HVAC), phlebotomy, medical clinician and a commercial driver’s license (CDL) program.”

Lenape’s programs range from four to nine months; others are less than 12 weeks.

Also, Lenape has implemented “Fast Track” programs by clustering many of the current courses.

This, according to Kirsch, allows students to be more employable upon the program completion by allowing them to expand their knowledge beyond one or two individual courses.

Since fall 2015, a dozen people have graduated from the Fast Track welding program, 24 from the Fast Track HVAC program and four more from the machining program.

The goal for schools like Lenape Tech and Career Training Academy is to better align students with the current needs of local and regional industries.

“With this strategic clustering, we look forward to increased enrollment in these programs moving forward,” Kirsch said.

Kirsch said Lenape Tech received some good news on Nov. 8.

It received approval for GI Bill veteran’s education funds for all three fast track programs.

Melissa Buday, a 2015 Freeport Area High School graduate, is taking Career Training Academy’s 18-month, medical assistant associate degree program.

“I’ve always wanted to be a pediatrics assistant,” Buday said. “I want to make the children feel better and put a smile on their faces. I’ve always tried to be a helpful person.”

At Career Training Academy, “the faculty really pushes you, they’re always there for you,” Buday said. “I’ll eventually have an externship working in a doctor’s office.”

Michael Discello, Career Training Academy’s Lower Burrell campus director, said the school’s “numbers have grown, even with the medical profession putting in more stringent requirements for students.”

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand in the medical assistants field is expected to grow by nearly 30 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is much more than the average occupation.

The bureau also said HVAC jobs are expected to grow by more than 20 percent by 2022, when the need for 59,000 more technicians is anticipated.

“We can tailor more education to the individual,” Discello said. “Our maximum (student to teacher) ratio is 12-to-1, and students can get the clinical skills they will need, and here they can get the experience with externships.”

Lenape also has instituted a clinical medical assistant program this fall.

George Guido is a freelance writer.