If there is one thing that Victoria Seals Ph.D., president of Atlanta Technical College, wants the public to understand, it’s technical colleges are not anymore what people have long perceived them to be.
Technical colleges and trade schools have long been stigmatized as simply an avenue for average to below-average high school students to get the basic skills to start a career in auto repair or hairstyling.
But Atlanta Technical and other technical schools offer so much more, Seals said.
“One of the key things that I think the community and our public needs to remember is that technical education is at the forefront of opportunity for our students, for our communities, and for their families,” explained Seals, who has helmed the 53-year-old institution for the last three years. “Technical education is not just for those who cannot learn, or the stigma it has had in the past. Technical education is about the opportunity.”
“We really pride ourselves on being connected to the high-demand industries,” Seals added. “Cybersecurity is one of our latest emerging and growing programs and the students, as well as the companies, are seeing the benefit of the programming that we offer.”
But that’s not the only high-demand industry that Atlanta Technical serves. In a pandemic that continues to wreak havoc on entire communities, there are plenty of career opportunities available in healthcare, construction, electrical, and HVAC.
Atlanta Technical College offers programs in all these areas. Many students who matriculate through these programs offered by Atlanta Technical go on to high paying careers.
Consider, for example, a graduate from Atlanta Technical’s cybersecurity program can comfortably enter the workforce as a cybersecurity analyst at an annual salary of $37,000. And that’s with only possessing an associate’s degree in the subject.
“The thing that we really emphasize with our students and with our industry partners is that our students are getting that experience along the way so that training on the job is not needed at all,” Seals said. “They’re ready to go straight to work here at Atlanta Technical College.
If one considers how immersive Atlanta Technical’s programs are — students not only engage in labs and hands-on learning, they also are placed in internships and apprenticeships through the college’s career center — on the whole, Atlanta Technical College alums can almost guarantee they will find a job after finishing school.
“(Atlanta Technical) touts a 99 percent job placement rate, and we’re really proud of the fact that we’re doing our part to help our workforce in our community thrive,” Seals said. “We’re really proud of being able to get our students and our industry partners connected to those high-demand careers. We continue to add to our offerings to stay at the forefront of what the workforce needs are.”
As the school plans to open for fall classes on Monday morning, Seals said she feels confident about the preparations that her leadership team has put in place to safely welcome students back, either through virtual learning or as small groups on either of its two campuses in Fulton and Clayton counties.
“Our team has been proactively leading and looking at different scenarios,” she said.”So as we prepare for the fall, we’re going to continue to provide that quality education and hands-on learning that our students need, but do it in the safest and efficient manner. We will continue to keep our students, our faculty, and our staff safe by providing the proper personal protective equipment, and also ensuring social distancing.
“Our faculty (members) were ready in March to switch to virtual learning,” she added. “They continue to engage with our students and to make sure that they were achieving the competencies that they need to be successful both in the classroom, as well as in the workplace.”
While COVID-19 has had an impact on how the college typically operates, Seals said it has mostly unearthed the fact that the students Atlanta Technical reaches are essential members of the region’s workforce.
“Like with all challenges, we’ve embraced (the pandemic) and have made a commitment to really move forward in an innovative manner,” Seals said. “The virus and the pandemic have really shown us a new definition of essential; and so we’re seeing that our students are indeed essential for the workforce in our region and in our city.”
“We see that there is an opportunity to learn to grow through it and to be better for it,” she added.
With its main campus in southwest Atlanta in the Pittsburgh community, Atlanta Technical College is one of 22 colleges a part of the Technical College System of Georgia and accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools with an average semester enrollment of 4,800 students,
It offers associate degrees, diplomas, and technical certificates of credit for more than 120 programs available in business and public service technologies, health and public safety technologies, as well as industrial and transportation technologies.
Graduates from Atlanta Technical have gone on to careers at industry leaders like Hyatt, Marriott, Delta Air Lines, Northwest Airlines, BMW, Grady Hospital, and the City of Atlanta.
“We’re proud of the connections that we have with our business partners and our industry partners,” Seals said. “They’re guaranteeing our students the opportunity to work in high-demand careers, and really to be able to make living wages that will support them and their families.”
One such partnership has been with the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Committee for Progress.
Through a public-private partnership with the City of Atlanta and Atlanta Committee for Progress in November 2018, Atlanta Technical College was able to establish its Center for Workforce Innovation.
Last August, Seals and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms launched a 200-student pilot program for the Center for Workforce Innovation.
An initial $2 million investment from partnering corporations — Delta Air Lines, The Home Depot, SunTrust, Intercontinental Exchange, and Georgia Power, with additional support from McKinsey & Co. and other Atlanta-based institutions — was earmarked to support three career tracks: aircraft technical skills, information technology (IT), and skilled trades like carpentry and electrical construction.
In addition, WorkSource Atlanta has provided tuition assistance of up to $10,000 to qualified students.
The added resources enable the center to provide for the students accepted into the pilot program career development coaching, wrap-around support services as well as work-based internships and internships.
“Our business and civic leaders have a longstanding history of working together to strengthen communities,” Bottoms said about the partnership. “As we now partner Atlanta’s leading corporations with one of the nation’s best technical college systems, Atlanta residents gain a newfound opportunity to acquire the skills needed to earn higher wages and better provide for themselves and their families.”
Added Seals, “Atlanta Technical College and the communities (that) we serve depend on innovative partnerships to ensure we are providing our students with every opportunity to succeed in high-demand career fields. We are honored to partner with Mayor Bottoms and some of Georgia’s most successful corporations to empower our students with the knowledge and training required to be successful in Atlanta’s competitive workforce.”