From an Aircraft Carrier to College: Launching an In-Demand Career

Published: February 25, 2016

When Jason Billig graduated from high school, college wasn’t even a thought. He says he did poorly when it came to math and he barely made it through school. For him, the best choice at the time was to enlist in the United States Navy. Little did Jason know that the three years he spent launching jets from an aircraft carrier would eventually lead him to the Electronics Technology program at College of Western Idaho (CWI).

“After I got out of the Navy, I went to work in the construction industry,” Jason said. “I did that for about 10 years. When 2008 hit, I lost my job. It became most economical for our family to have me be a stay-at-home dad.”

When the government announced in 2012 it would provide federal funding to educate and/or train unemployed military veterans, Jason was finally ready to make the best of his time and fulfill his life-long desire to work with his hands. When the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) launched its application period at midnight on May 15, Jason says he became the very first Idaho veteran to apply.

“I had to choose a high-demand career, and everything was paid for,” he said. “It worked out perfectly because I could attend classes while my daughter was at school during the day.”

Jason chose CWI based on cost and reputation. Always mechanically inclined, he chose the electronics program because the two go hand-in-hand. He says he worked very hard to overcome his deficit in math by starting near the bottom. It took him an extra semester and a summer term to work his way up from Math 25. Proudly, a little more than two years after starting his studies, Jason graduated in December 2014 with a 3.87 grade point average.

A few months later, he was working in Boise at Diversified Fluid Solutions; an up-and-coming company that designs, builds, and maintains chemical distribution systems. As a control technician, Jason spends his days working with hands—building and wiring control panels.

“This is a great place to work,” he said. “I truly enjoy what I do. The courses I took at CWI truly prepared me for my job. I use almost everything I learned every single day.”

Changing With the Times

Electronics Technology is part of CWI’s Professional Technical Education (PTE) programs. CWI partners with local employers to ensure students complete these programs with the exact skills they are looking for. The program’s goal is to successfully have students placed when they graduate. Overall, the College has a 91 percent positive placement of PTE program completers.

As with most things, technology changes everything. The Electronics Technology program is currently evolving into what will soon be called Advanced Mechatronics Engineering Technology. The world of automation is here and the knowledge of controlling it electronically is extremely important.

“Industry and manufacturing are where we are, but we change our options and focuses as industry changes,” Mikel Douglas, CWI’s Advanced Mechatronics Technology Program Chair, said.

Keeping the education and training at a level that industry needs is key. The program has to maintain the ability to be flexible and evolve as the needs of the workforce change. The program educates students on a comprehensive skill set, and these skills combine to program, maintain, and operate electronic and mechanical systems. The holistic approach allows for the students to gain an overall understanding of both focus areas while also providing opportunity to hone in on a specific system.

“We are working with heavy hitters to continually strengthen our programs, and to ensure that our students are prepared for those high-demand jobs,” Douglas said.

Electronics Technology continues to be a high-demand career, and with the addition of the Mechatronics title and enhancement of the curriculum, this program will be prepared to educate students for the future.

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