An inside look at available vocational certificates

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An inside look at available vocational certificates

Pietrek Kubasak works in Welding 212. Kubasak, 20, is part of the vocational  program at ECC.

Pietrek Kubasak works in Welding 212. Kubasak, 20, is part of the vocational program at ECC.

Alex Tuider

Pietrek Kubasak works in Welding 212. Kubasak, 20, is part of the vocational program at ECC.

Alex Tuider

Alex Tuider

Pietrek Kubasak works in Welding 212. Kubasak, 20, is part of the vocational program at ECC.

Alex Tuider and Juan Castillo

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A big but lesser-known part of what Elgin Community College has to offer is its various vocational and technical programs. Students who are attending ECC to receive an associate’s degree or just to take a few general education classes might not know about the various career training and certificate programs that the school has to offer. With the help of some of these programs, students can learn the skills needed to head into a career field after just a few semesters of classes.

One of the many vocational studies offered at ECC is its dental assisting program.

“Dental assistants are the ones assisting with the dentist,” said Kim Plate, the Director of the Dental Assisting program at ECC. “They are taking impressions or taking x-rays. Typically, it is a dental assistant that is working at the front desk of a dental office.”

All of those skills are taught to students in the program to help prepare them to work in a real-life dental office upon their graduation. The program is made up of three certificates that can all be earned in three semesters worth of courses. The program is the only one located in the northern Illinois region to be accredited by the American Dental Association. The classes are typically smaller allowing for instructors to have more individual time with students.

“It’s a fun program and you learn a lot,” said Karina Mercado, a second-semester student in the dental assisting program. “The small classes mean the teachers can provide you with more attention and help if you need it.”

During a student’s time in the program, they will be learning through regular classroom work and hands-on training. The program has its own dental office and clinic where students will learn the skills they need to earn their certificates. The students also spend over 300 hours doing clinical practice in real-life dental offices around the community.

While dental assisting might not be for everyone, Plate encourages anyone who might be interested in working in the dental field to try one of the courses offered.

“Our courses are all electives for an associate’s degree,” Plate said. “So if you were doing an associate’s of science and you thought you might want to do dentistry, take dental anatomy and just see if you like it.”

For those who go on to complete the dental assisting program and earn their certificates Plate and many of the instructors will assist graduates in finding a job in the field as well. While they can never guarantee graduates that they will find a job right after they exit the program, there is an abundance of jobs available for dental assistants.

“The teachers will help you if you need help looking for a job,” said Karla Gonzalez, a 2017 graduate of the dental assisting program. “I waited a little bit after I graduated to start looking but when I messaged Plate asking her she sent me a whole list of available jobs.

So whether or not you’re looking to go into the dental field, the dental assisting program is available to ECC students interested in oral medicine.

Juan Castillo
Dental assisting program students sanitizing equipment at the end of their class.

A vocational certificate can be extremely valuable. Nowadays, there is a huge demand for positions in the trades, especially welding. At ECC, you can get your certificate in just five classes, which amounts to just one year over in building O. Learning in the classroom and being able to work hands-on in the workshop, dedicated staff members inspire and teach students what they need to know to strive in the workforce. A graduate of the program, current full-time welding instructor and instructional coordinator, David Reich, has been devoting his time to the program for almost 20 years now.

“Other than teaching students, making sure we have welding consumables and the supplies we need to run the program, making sure the enrollment is up as well as going to high schools and talking to students are some of the jobs that fall on the coordinator to make sure the program succeeds,” Reich said.

Reich explained the benefits of achieving a vocational certificate and what you have to do to get it. A student only needs to take two semesters of classes, and they’d be certified and ready to find a job in a year. Yet the biggest problem he and district 579 are facing is getting students that want to put the time and hard work in.

“Not everybody will transfer to a four-year institution, and I’ll be the first to tell you that’s okay,” Reich said. “You can take five of my welding classes and if you pass our certification test, pass a drug test, show up on time and work, you’ll be starting $40-45,000 a year, full medical, dental and so on. My problem is no one wants to do it; no one wants to work for it. The ones that do want it are doing great and are capable of going out on their own comfortably.”

With the class age ranging all over, most students are taking classes for the same goal, which is to find a comfortable job that will earn them a decent living. Granville Davis, 27, is currently in Welding 101 and plans to finish sometime next year.

“I finally decided to really buckle down, find the right career and start it. I’m in the area I’ve been going to ECC for a while and the reason I chose welding is because it’s such a mobile career,” Davis said. “You can really get a job in anything, working on jobs from $30,000-200,000.”

Even for those unsure what they want to major in, welding could be a great alternative and something you could be good at. Pietrek Kubasak, 20, who is already registered in Welding 212, started for the same reason.

“My brother went into the welding program, and I was unsure what I wanted to do at ECC,” Kubasak said. “So I [visited], checked out the program and it turns out that I’m actually really good at it, and I also liked it a lot. My goal is to get my associate’s in welding and hopefully get a job. There’s just so many options.”

Two past weekends ago, John and Tom Limberis took first and second place at a welding competition hosted at ECC. With a great deal of talent in ECC’s programs, don’t forget to check out some of the vocational classes available next semester to start your own path.