When Kip Turner first applied to a job with AT&T in 1973, he didn't expect that he'd spend his whole career with them.
Turner was 18 years old at the time and had just finished a year at Arkansas State University studying animal science. But, after seeing all the schooling required to become a veterinarian, he realized he needed to get a job "to even think about that" and dropped out.
His side job as a lumber truck driver wasn't cutting it, and so he asked his dad, a Southwestern Bell Telephone employee, whether he knew of any job openings in the telecommunications field.
In the summer of 1973, Turner drove to Little Rock for an interview and joined AT&T as a station installer.
Turner, now 68, has spent the last 50 years of his career with the company and will likely retire with them in the next few years.
Turner tells CNBC Make It he's had roughly eight roles during his 50 years with AT&T, each ranging from two to seven years, except his most recent job as lead product development engineer, which he's held since 2009.
He likes to advise younger professionals, based on his own experience, to not let education requirements get in the way of applying to a job that interests you. Turner joined AT&T without a bachelor's degree and has learned everything on the job.
"I've been to probably 150 different training courses all over the country on everything from basic troubleshooting to microwave radio engineering, fiber optic engineering synchronization, maintenance, maintenance support for microwaves engineering," Turner says.
While many of those courses carry a college credit, Turner says one of his main regrets in his career is not leveraging AT&T's education benefits to go back to college. "I would have loved to have completed an engineering degree," he says.
Currently, AT&T offers eligible employees up to $30,000 in tuition reimbursement, and partners with Notre Dame, University of Oklahoma, Champlain College, North Carolina A&T and other universities for select programs so employees can complete their degree at $30,000 or under. Courses are also available 100% online.
To that end, another big piece of advice to young employees is to "take advantage of all of the training and education opportunities" a company offers, "whether it's internal, whether it's a tuition reimbursement, whether it's allowing you time to go back to school," Turner says. "It makes me wish that I had availed myself of all those years ago."
Tuition benefits are becoming a common work perk: 48% of employers said they offer undergraduate or graduate tuition assistance as a benefit, according to a survey from the Society for Human Resource Management. A separate survey from Willis Towers Watson in 2021 found 80% of large employers offer tuition reimbursement.
Though Turner still has access to those college benefits, "recently with personal and business life I'm so busy. I don't know when I could find time to go back to school," he says. "It's going to take a lot of catching up. I have some co-workers that have gone back to school, they're a little bit younger than me and they've admitted, it's tough."
His on-the-job learning will keep him busy until retirement around age 70 or beyond, he says. His role has changed in the last few years to support the public sector and defense account team, which "has taken me to some interesting locations," including building a wireless system on a retired Navy destroyer in California.
"The things I've learned specific to AT&T wireless and cellular engineering by putting my hands on the equipment has been invaluable," Turner says. "It's taken a little bit longer, but it's been invaluable."
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