Josh Keys had a steady enough job when he was single and had fewer responsibilities.
“I had gone to school first for sports coaching, then decided it’s not what I wanted to do,” Keys said. “Then I went into the oilfield as a driller and worked all over the world – from Texas to west Africa and Asia. I had always said to myself that it was just a job to me. Then I got married, got a stepson, two car notes and a mortgage, so things changed.”
Keys, 33, enrolled at Mississippi’s Hinds Community College in 2021 on the advice of a friend who worked in electronics and that of his wife, Victoria, who is a graduate of the college’s nursing program. It’s been nothing but thanks since then, on up to his instructors and supervisors.
“The program changed my life,” he said. “Without it, I don’t know if I’d be working right now.”
He’s on track to graduate from Hinds in spring 2022 with an associate of applied science degree from the electronics engineering technology program. The course of study combines elements of robotics programming and autonomous systems to meet the needs of modern-day industry.
At the end of his first semester, Keys took part in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Career and Technical Education Internship program, which is designed to help students still enrolled in school gain experience in their area of study before taking the final steps into full-time employment. It led quickly to a full-time job offer from Siemens Industry Inc. as a lab technician.
He learned about the program after a visit to his electronics class from program navigator Layne Allen.
“When she walked into that room, it was like a blessing for me,” he said. “I learned I could go into my field of study and make money at an internship at the same time. And I now have a job that’s working around my class schedule.”
The program fit Keys’ situation like a glove, Allen said, and it could for countless others, too.
“For students who are starting a new career path, this program is the perfect opportunity to get a foot in the door and make connections within their industry,” Allen said. “We hope that Josh’s story and the success he has had will encourage other students to utilize the many workforce opportunities and resources that we have to offer.”
Ready for the next phase
Instructors praise Keys’ aptitude and preparedness for the next phase of his professional life.
“Not only did he absorb and retain the material he learned, he was instrumental in assisting the instructors with the onboarding of new equipment trainers and their operation,” said Jacob Wright, instructor in the program’s artificial intelligence and robotics lab, said about Keys.
Along the way, Keys surprised himself by excelling in school after being away from a classroom for more than a dozen years.
“That’s what scared me at first – that I was 32 at the time and hadn’t been in school in 10+ years. I didn’t know if I could do it,” he said. “But, I had instructors who worked really good with me. It was easier for me this time than it was at 18 or 20. I took it more seriously. All the work experience I had in the past had prepared me for a technical program.”