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IEC Sees Enrollment Boost; Tops 20,000 Students

Millions of workers in the leisure and hospitality sector lost their jobs during the pandemic.

One beneficiary was Irvine-based International Education Corporation (IEC), as unemployed workers at hotels, restaurants and other professions decided they needed to learn skilled trades that are in higher demand.

Its schools offer short-term training programs in high-demand verticals, for positions like dental assistants, criminal justice workers, electricians, welders, automotive, and ventilation and air conditioning service jobs.

“Enrollment has increased significantly during and after the pandemic,” IEC Chief Executive Fardad Fateri said.

“What’s happened in the world has truly disrupted the way people work, and this marketplace shift is here to stay.

“People have to work, and those who haven’t been working are coming back to school to work in something long-lasting,” Fateri said while giving the Business Journal a tour of its new Garden Grove campus late last month.

That 29,000-square-foot campus, which opened in July 2020, already has 700 students, including a record 135 new students this fall.

School Expansion 

IEC has four schools—UEI College, United Education Institute, Florida Career College and U.S. Colleges—with more than 20,000 students and 2,370 employees.

Fateri, who became CEO in 2008, has increased the number of IEC campuses from six to 34.

“There’s this stigma that people are ashamed to say they went to a vocational or career school,” said Fateri, who himself has an undergraduate degree from University of California, Irvine, and a post-doctorate from Harvard University.

“There is no shame in essential professions that often make more money than white-collar workers. Plus, employers want them.”

The employee-owned IEC traces its history to 1982 when United Electronics Institute (UEI) was founded in Los Angeles County. In 1989, it changed its name to United Education Institute to reflect the addition of a broader range of training programs in the career education sector.

The IEC holding company was formed in 1996 to accommodate plans for acquisitions and organic growth.

The Shortage

About 70% of job seekers who last worked in the leisure and hospitality industry say they are now looking for work in a different industry, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing a study by the ZipRecruiter website.

The number of jobs posted for skilled trades-related positions jumped 50% in June from the pre-pandemic period two years ago, according to a PeopleReady Skilled Trades study.

To address these marketplace shifts, IEC’s curriculum is constantly in flux.

“There’s a lot of analysis and thought in market research, most of which comes from employers,” Fateri said. “We see demands rise for certain skill sets and competencies and update our curriculum accordingly. We don’t want to open a program if there isn’t somewhere to place our students afterwards.”

For example, its Montclair campus recently launched a truck driving program to meet the “critical need” of e-commerce and online shopping.

“The pandemic has really pushed warehousing, e-commerce and the need for supply chain management. There’s an incredible shortage right now at Walmart and Amazon. We can’t train enough truck drivers for those two companies alone.”

Future Essential Workers

IEC says it’s not in competition with the community colleges or universities.

Its target student is often a first-generation college student who needs a highly supportive, hands-on environment.

“There’s a large group of students out there who have been historically and traditionally ignored and avoided by post-secondary education,” Fateri said.

“They don’t learn theoretically but by doing—but they are our core and whom we love. If we weren’t here, they wouldn’t have an option or a choice.”

Depreciating Degrees

The pandemic has shown how critical trades-related workers are to the economy, Fateri said, adding that one of the most disruptive trends of the next decade will be the devaluation of college degrees.

“The value of a degree is going down by the month because of employers. The leading employers of the country—Google, Facebook, Tesla and Apple—no longer care if you have a bachelor’s degree. They’re eliminating the stigma of having a degree by emphasizing competencies and skills in the hiring process.

“That’s a fantastic thing.” 

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