Alachua County K-12 schools, nationally recognized Santa Fe College and industry professionals are laser-focused on providing the curriculums and tools our students need to enter great careers. Gainesville Career Technical Education in fields as diverse as robotics, culinary, veterinary, agriculture, gaming, biotechnology, finance, entrepreneurship, early childhood education. These programs provide a wealth of opportunity for students and many pathways to careers that do not require a four-year degree, starting in elementary school and progressing through middle school, high school and college.
Today, middle and high school students in our Alachua County Public Schools, in partnership with Santa Fe College, can choose from 130 workforce/CTE courses covering 45 industry certifications, with 15 career magnets housed within seven high schools. About 6,000 students are taking a Career Technical Education course or enrolled in a CTE program, and last school year, 1,600 students earned industry certifications. Additionally, the dual enrollment program at Santa Fe allows our high school students to work toward their diplomas while earning tuition-free college credits.
And the opportunities don’t end with public-school students. Adults looking to upskill and gain more career mobility have several new options in the community.
The ACB (Achieve, Conquer and Believe) Excel program provides training for parents to become certified facilities maintenance technicians, with supervised child care and tutoring built into the program. The Builders Association of North Central Florida Apprenticeship Program provides “earn while you learn” opportunities in electrical, HVAC, plumbing and carpentry.
As part of the Gainesville Chamber’s Inclusive Gainesville — a holistic initiative to build a more inclusive and equitable community for everyone in our region — the Business Leadership Institute for Early Learning has partnered with the Children’s Trust of Alachua County to offer child care providers an intensive, accelerated course in budgeting, forecasting, marketing, sales, real estate and human resources. The mission is targeted: to ensure those who prepare our youngest for success in school and life have the training and credentials in both early learning and business to be successful themselves. https://gainesvillechamber.com/inclusive-gainesville/
But with all these wonderful options, we still have a perception problem, with many of us holding on to an outdated notion of careers vs. jobs. An Industry Week 2021 study, for example, reported that less than five in 10 Americans surveyed believed manufacturing jobs to be as stable and secure as jobs in other industries, and less than three in 10 surveyed would encourage their children to pursue a career in manufacturing.
The perceptions have not kept pace with industry advances in job stability, career growth, pay and benefits. We need not look any further than the advanced manufacturing opportunities right here at Gainesville Career Technical Education.
In 2021, our county’s biotechnology and advanced manufacturing companies had 1,139 open positions. Did you know our region is now home to more than 100 biotech companies and more than 250 manufacturing companies, with a total workforce upwards of 6,500 employees? Recruiting, training and retaining workers is the main issue confronting biotech employers, who estimate the need for 1,600 skilled, biomanufacturing workers over the next five years, with wages ranging from $13.00 to $56.43 per hour.
Another perception that has not caught up with reality: that CTE programs only provide students with industry skills and are devoid of critical thinking, mathematics and communications instruction that are basic to traditional college coursework. In reality, at Santa Fe, not only are these basic college skills built into the CTE curriculums, but the programs also include the “soft skills” employers desire, providing graduates the transferable skills they need to move onward and upward as they desire.
It’s time to leave these old perceptions behind and fully embrace all the wonderful options available to us as we seek out productive, satisfying and financially rewarding work. Gov. Ron DeSantis was on the Santa Fe campus recently to announce an $89 million initiative to boost CTE programming. This will only help our local CTE professionals continue and advance their great work, and that is a very good thing, Gainesville.
Eric Godet is president/CEO of the Greater Gainesville Chamber