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Guest Column: How Career and Technical Education Became the Key to Tampa's Full Potential

August 02, 2019

The following article is from the Tampa Bay Business Journal

What do you think of when you hear the term career and technical education? Underachieving students in obsolete industries?

Long stigmatized as a second-tier educational option, siloed away from the prestige of advanced placement classes or college honors programs, career and technical education, or CTE, has become much more than a bygone high school shop class or a vocational school teaching blue-collar skills.

A new generation of career education providers are combining rigorous curricula, state-of-the-art technology, and work-based learning to equip students with the skills needed for in-demand, good-paying "new collar" jobs in industries like nursing, IT and the skilled trades.

This rethinking of CTE's role in our education system is long overdue. Here in Florida, middle-skill jobs — those requiring education beyond high school but not a four-year college degree — account for 55 percent of the labor market, but only 46 percent of workers are trained to that level. CTE can close that gap, offering workers the training to succeed in the job market and businesses the steady supply of skilled labor to compete in the 21st century global economy.

After decades of inattention, politicians on both sides of the aisle have begun to recognize CTE's potential to close the skills gap while positively impacting state and local economies: Gov. Ron DeSantis began his term by setting a goal of making Florida the No. 1 state in the nation for workforce training by 2030, while the Legislature recently concluded its 2019 session by passing a bill to expand apprenticeship programs and assist students with career planning. Jane Castor, our newly-elected mayor, pledged during her campaign to "focus on […] upgrading the skills of the city's workforce."

This attention from policymakers reflects what educators and business leaders across the state have long known — even as our state is on strong economic footing, the skills gap is holding us back from reaching our full potential. The Florida Council of 100, a nonpartisan organization of business and civic leaders, released its Project Sunrise report, offering a roadmap for how Florida can compete and grow in the years ahead.

Tampa's economy is projected to grow at more than twice the pace of the U.S. economy, the report found, but "the region's educational institutions could better align their degree programs with the current and future needs of the region's employers."

According to a statewide skills gap and job vacancy survey from CareerSource Florida, education and health services have the largest number of job vacancies of any industry in the state — and the industry is expected to add more than 16,000 new jobs by 2026. We recently launched two-year degree programs in nursing and surgical technology, equipping our campuses with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities so students can have hands-on experience before they graduate and enter the workforce.

There is much more work to be done. CTE providers must continue to provide a high-quality offering that puts students on a pathway to the middle class. As new technologies reshape the economy, leaders in business and higher education must be in constant dialogue about what skills students need to succeed, not just for the jobs of the present but for those of the future. In making human capital its top objective for a more prosperous economic future, the Project Sunrise report recognizes the urgent need to "develop the state's talent pipeline and better match talent supply with economic demand."

The revitalization of CTE is the missing piece to that puzzle, one that is holding back state and local economies around the United States. Slowly but surely, we're seeing the perception of CTE across our region change. One conversation, one partnership, and one executive order at a time, we're building an education-to-workforce pipeline that is putting Tampa's employers and learners on the path to mutually beneficial success.

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