Career Tech Schools See Rise In Students Starting New Careers Amid Pandemic


A Green Countryman is going back to school to start a new career after losing his job of more than 30 years.

Jason Nichols has gone from full-time worker to full-time student at the age of 52.

"It's been 34 years, you know since I went to school, so it's like, 'Oh, my word. What do I do now?'" said Nichols.

The Rogers County man had been making catalytic converters since 1987 until the plant he worked for closed because of the pandemic.

Now, Nichols is driving to Tulsa five days a week for the welding program on Tulsa Tech’s Lemley Campus.

The program would have cost Nichols $3,500 dollars, but the husband, father, and grandfather qualify for a federal program called Trade Adjustment Assistance, which pays for his career training.

"It's been a blessing," said Nichols.

Tulsa Tech said it averages 6,000 full-time students a year across its six campuses.

Staff said out of its 82 career programs, more people are enrolling in welding, masonry, HVAC, and construction programs, which have jobs that have been in high demand.

Nichols’ welding instructor, David Gilliam, said he has several students who are "products of the pandemic."

"It's a new set of challenges for them because you're trying to juggle going back to school, decreased income with the hope of better income, trying to learn a new craft, a new trade," explained Gilliam.

Gilliam also said he expects classes to fill up.

"That's part of why we exist: Is to try to help people with the adult program to re-shift, refocus and find that new place in life and be successful because, in the end, that's what everybody wants," said Gilliam.

As for Nichols, he hopes his story is a reminder that it is never too late to change careers.

"I didn't think I could be able to pull the grades because I haven't been in school forever, and I did," said Nichols.

For those looking to change careers, there are several options for financial aid:

-Federal government assistance

-Military tuition waivers

-Tulsa Tech scholarships

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