Lesly Perez finished high school with a lot of ambition, but too little money for college.
So a week after graduation, she entered a six-month training program that immersed her into the world of computer coding and paid her expenses. She then landed a job at a rapidly growing technology company. At 18, she earns about $40,000 a year and expects her income to grow as she gains more experience.
“College just wasn’t an option,” she said. “This path gave me so many more opportunities. I love the environment of my company – I really feel supported and know I can always turn to somebody when I have questions.”
As technology continues to change the world’s landscape, many companies say they don’t have enough IT workers to fill jobs. Women are especially underrepresented in technology fields, representing just about a fourth of that workforce.
With growing demand and the baby boom generation retiring, other industries, from manufacturing to the energy sector, also face worker shortages. Duke Energy, for example, needs lineworkers, engineering design associates and customer service reps. And here’s the deal, kids: These jobs pay a whole let better than minimum wage.
That was a recurring theme at a recent Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Career and Technical Education (CTE) fair. Duke Energy sponsored the event, with hopes that students will take a serious look at jobs that pay well and have a high demand for workers.
“There’s an opportunity to have a very rewarding career without going to a four-year college and without taking on debt to fund your education,” said Chris Hage, manager for Duke Energy’s Workforce Planning and Development. “We’re really focused on opening their eyes to the opportunities that exist at Duke Energy. For many of these kids, these are life-changing and immensely rewarding opportunities right here in the local community.”
The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. At Duke Energy, an entry-level lineworker earns $20 to $22 an hour, or more than $40,000 a year in base salary. When you add in overtime and career advancement, those workers can earn more than $100,000 a year. Customer service reps and tech workers can earn $18 to $25 per hour plus overtime.
Susan Gann-Carroll, the CTE director for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, said the programs offer students early exposure to the working world, whether they are college bound or take other paths. CTE offerings include an array from auto repair to construction to the medical fields and technology. About a third of CMS students are in CTE programs, and they have a graduation rate of 99 percent, versus a district rate of 86 percent, she said.
For some, CTE can be the route leading from a low-income childhood to a middle-class future.
“We want to know that every student is engaged in something that is helping their future,” Gann-Carroll said. “The idea is that all of our pathways lead to options.”
Gann-Carroll said a pilot program starting in two middle schools next year will have all-female classes with a focus on technology. “We want to make sure our girls have the confidence so they can be successful and move on to the next level,” she said.
Nakisha Glover is all about introducing more girls to technology. She’s the regional partnership coordinator for the nonprofit Girls Who Code. Her agency runs summer camps, helps schools start coding clubs and encourages girls to embrace technology as a potential career path.
“We’re trying to close the gender gap, and at the same time add to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Glover said. “I see this as one of our solutions, in the workplace and the community. If we put more girls into technology, we’re in for a revolution.”
Database programmer Carl Malcolm hopes his two young daughters, who are 6 and 9, will someday consider technology careers. At school, Camila, 9, has worked on a few coding projects, and he and his wife, Rosa, steer them toward computer activities that are fun and educational.
“That’s where the future is,” he said. “It will provide the most opportunities – and right now, not enough girls are interested.”
Lesly Perez, who got a job at a technology company, is happy with her current position but hasn’t ruled out going to college on the side. She’s already setting money aside to save for tuition.
5 jobs at Duke Energy
These jobs do not require a four-year college degree, though they require a high school diploma or equivalent and may require an associate’s degree, experience or technical training.
- Entry-level lineworkers
- Engineering design associates
- Plant operators
- Work management specialists
- Customer care specialists
For more information or to apply: duke-energy.com/careers