Sacramento area vocational schools report surge

As employers continue to hit the brakes on hiring, many displaced workers are shifting gears and heading back to school.

And in a job-starved recession, vocational schools offering short-term technical training often become havens. They're a place to acquire new skills – as diverse as medical billing, dental assistance, massage therapy and truck driving.

They're attracting laid-off workers like Elk Grove resident Hanh Nguyen, who lost his job a few months ago after 10 years in construction. The 41-year-old recently enrolled in the truck driving program at Sacramento's Center for Employment Training, a nonprofit trade school on 65th Street near the Florin Towne Centre.

"The hardest part is backing up," Nguyen said, following a class session on driving skills at the school's asphalt training yard last week. He's hoping to jump-start a new career as a big-rig driver.

It's the same kind of drive that's helping boost enrollments at vocational and two-year colleges across the country. But as classrooms fill up, job placements for new graduates are slowing due to the economy.

As jobs wither amid California's 11.5 percent unemployment rate, vocational schools must work harder to get graduates hired.

In California, vocational school placement rates dropped from 74 percent in 2007 to 68 percent in 2008, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. Locally, six of seven career schools contacted by The Bee estimate that 2009 placements will fall from 4 percent to 30 percent.

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