Jessica Paltanavich was looking for a way to boost her career.
The 31-year-old Hunlock Creek woman discovered a way to enhance her education through Keystone College with a certificate program in customer service.
“We got an email about a professional development institute through Keystone about their customer service certificate,” said Paltanavich, who works in the customer service department at Navient in Luzerne County.
Paltanavich said she’s been ‘going to college’ since she was 17 and readily admitted she took a ‘long break,’ but adds that it’s been a long-term goal to complete a course of study. The Northwest Area High School graduate said the whole process has been easy on her full-time work schedule.
“When I found something that could be done in two semesters with three courses while I’m working full-time, I jumped at the opportunity,” she said. “This is really going to boost my resume.”
Paltanavich is part of a nationwide trend of more than 6.5 million American adults looking to gain education past high school, according to statistics compiled by the federal government. About 35 percent of college campuses are adult learners or ‘nontraditional’ students.
According to Shannon Munro, vice-president for Workforce Development at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, workforce development is ‘thriving,’.
“It’s thriving as retention and attraction are priorities for companies successfully navigating the Covid-19 pandemic,” she said. “Companies see a value to their bottom line when they invest in their workers because those employees tend to be more loyal and are interested in working for a company that ensures they have continuous learning opportunities.”
She said the college offers many different classes – both online or in-person and even a hybrid of both – to accommodate the student’s schedule.
“It’s highly customizable,” she said. “This largely depends on the content and the interest of the company.”
Munro said the change in adult education and higher learning is happening ‘so quickly’ that students are now more accustomed to a less linear learning path. She said whenever possible, they do apply the learning to college credit.
“Even with a college education, workers must continue to build skills,” she said.
Munro said there’s now less reluctance to do online learning than before the pandemic.
“It was a shift we predicted would occur,” she said, “but not as fast as it actually did.”
Munro calls their apprenticeship program highly successful, which runs programs in CNC machining, plastics, mechatronics, industrial manufacturing technician programs.
Doug Cook, director of marketing and communications for Johnson College, said the average age for students is 25 years old.
“It’s a demographic we are targeting,” he said. “A lot of people who are in our programs are fields where people are retiring. Those industries need workers and these students need those skills. There’s a skills shortage out there. If they come here, they can get the skills they need and in two years they graduate and can earn a sustainable wage. It’s a new career that takes their family in a new direction.”
He said Johnson College’s continuing education department works with local industries and CareerLink offices to help further education for those who need it.
“We work with industry partners where they may want to upskill their employees or train their employees on something specific,” he said. “We customize a complete program for them. We’ve been doing that for years.”
Cook said they are currently working with CANPACK in Olyphant. They are hiring more than 400 new employees at their new manufacturing facility. The company makes glass bottles, aluminum cans, and steel cans.
“They were on campus last week,” he said. “And we are working with them to develop courses for their employees when they open the new plant.”
Both employers and colleges are making it easier for students to learn, said Paltanavich.
“It’s asynchronous and it’s really convenient,” she said. “I have the week to do what I need to get done. I can do that at my own pace and my own work schedule. I don’t have to be somewhere on Wednesdays at 7 PM. It’s super easy on my schedule.”
She said the whole experience has been great. She feels what she is learning is adaptable to her current job and offers real-life experiences.
Paltanavich thinks people shouldn’t second guess taking these types of courses.
“It’s three simple words,” she said. “Go for it. It doesn’t hurt.”
She said as an adult, she feels she’s better prepared and more serious about academics.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said.