Big demand for tech workers even without 4-year degree

Laura Gurrola: "I was a technician in the Navy."

Chris Norris: "I actually still work as a barista. And I've been a barista for six years now."

Linda Schinman: "I started as a file clerk in in a hospital, years ago."

Ramon Martinez: "All my life has either been in fast food or the restaurant industry. It has been a big change."

These are real people, living right here, who wanted to make a big change that could ultimately alter their lives.  They wanted to learn a new job, in a new field. And they didn't want to pile on a lot of debt to do it.

But to find them, we had to go back to school.

"Boeing, Intel, Micron, Century Link, the FAA, Honeywell, Ingersoll-Rand, Sound Air, Aero jet," said Tim Fiegenbaum of North Seattle College, reading just a partial list of the companies looking for electronic technicians.

Fiegenbaum runs the programs that train them.  And lately, he says, he has been inundated with job offers.

"Even the Pacific Science Center wanted a technician," said Fiegenbaum.

But he doesn't yet have enough students trained to take all the jobs.

"One wanted 27 robotics technicians and another wanted a hundred broadband technicians," he said. "So the demand is just off the charts."

It takes two years to complete Fiegenbaum's programs.

Tuition at North Seattle College can cost as much as $12,000, not including fees. But the jobs start at $20 an hour and can go up from there.

The cost and potential reward are just right for Laura Gurrola, a former technician in the Navy. She is training to repair hospital equipment.

"The associate's degree appealed to me in that aspect where I would be getting an education to get a good career," said Gurrola. "Without feeling like I was stuck somewhere for four years."

Another group of jobs in high demand are in health care.

They require a two-year degree at colleges like Bellevue College.  Tuition there can run $17,000, including fees.  For jobs that can pay from $55,000 to nearly double that.

"From what I've heard," said barista Chris Norris. "It's about $37 an hour, in the Seattle area, starting."

That's $78,000 to start once Norris becomes a radiation technologist.

"And that blew me away," he said.  "I wasn't expecting anything like that."

But before you rush to sign up for classes, a word of caution.

"It's a very competitive program," said Norris. "I mean, they only accept 10 students a year.  It's very difficult to get in because they're very selective."

And there are other considerations, says Linda Schinman, a graduate of the Bellevue College program she now runs.

"Are they good with math and science?" asked Schinman. "But do they also have the communications skills required to work with people? Because you definitely have to be sensitive to the state the patient's in.  Because it is emotional."

Emotional because radiation patients usually have cancer. Indeed, half of the two-year program is spent in the classroom, the other half in radiation clinics around the Puget Sound region.

"In the end, it just makes you more employable because you've been exposed to so many different types of team dynamics," said Schinman. "Different types of patients; different types of machinery. When you graduate, you hit the floor running."

And you're launched into that lucrative, new career you envisioned.