‘We have documented salaries that show we have a great return on your investment.’
The College of Central Florida has spent the past six-plus years revamping its programs to supply businesses with skilled-labor needs in an evolving Marion County workforce.
The college has added robotics, supply chain management, agribusiness and radiography, just to name a few programs, to help build a pipeline of high-skilled workers.
CF’s mission plays a critical role in the area’s transformation away from a services-oriented workforce. The school is now focused on educating students in high-skilled jobs in manufacturing, logistics and health care.
CF President Jim Henningsen said a local job wage study reveals that CF graduates are reaping the financial rewards of the college’s evolving mission.
While local high school graduates earn $22,644 annually, a student with a skilled-labor certificate will earn $38,324. A student with a CF associate of arts degree earns $4,000 less than a student with a certification.
“One of our fastest growing segments at the college is certificates,” Henningsen said.
The college offers 35 or so certificates, ranging from equine technician to graphic design. And the college is adding new ones periodically.
But what is more impressive is that a student with an associate of science degree earned $51,780 in Marion County, or $2,500 more than a person who works locally with a bachelor’s degree. Associate of science degrees include paralegal services and dental assisting, just to name a few.
The college and its K-12 partners at Marion County Public Schools are working together to supply these specially trained workers
Henningsen said National Association of Community Colleges officials are looking at CF’s model. Henningsen said he is working closely with “the U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta and the Trump administration, and they are thoroughly excited about our system nationally.”
In recent years, Henningsen said, he feels CF has been left out of the conversation. Officials with several agencies (such as CareerSource CLM, the School District and Ocala/Marion County Chamber & Economic Partnership) tout “all the things they are doing to help train the local workforce.”
“We are a major agency charged to push graduates into those jobs, and we do want to be left out of the conversation,” Henningsen said recently. “We are working hard and it gets frustrating and hurtful when we are not part of that conversation.”
Henningsen pointed to a 2012 skill gaps study, which was conducted by CareerSource CLM (Citrus Levy Marion). The study showed a need to expand health education.
The college responded, adding a state-of-the-art simulation laboratory that serves 2,800 students. The college added a radiography program and many other health-care certifications and degrees to combat a critical national nursing shortage.
“We are still looking into new programs in cardiovascular technology, stentography, respiratory therapy, dental hygiene, just name a few,” Henningsen noted.
And when local business leaders began attracting more warehousing companies, such as FedEx, Chewy and AutoZone, the college added logistics. To meet developing manufacturing needs, which are moving more and more to robotics, the college obtained a $120,000 grant to purchase four state-of-the-art robotic machines to train students.
Henningsen noted that CF has issued 2,700 certifications in the past five years alone. Some of those degrees include welding, law enforcement and information technology. Overall, CF has issued almost 12,000 certificates and degrees.
“One of our fastest growing segments at the college is in microcredentials or certificates,” he said.
Short-term certificate programs are where students learn skills, get a higher paying job and can go on later to earn associate’s degrees or bachelor’s degrees.
“If you go to a university and get a four-year degree and can’t find a job and you have a lot of debt, how does that help you or your community?” Henningsen asked. “We have documented salaries that show we have a great return on your investment.”
CF has had a 30 percent increase in the number of students earning those certificates. And Henningsen said there are some other partnerships that are coming down the pipeline, and those are with large companies.
If CF gets an apprenticeship grant it applied for recently, the college will train about 1,000 Lockheed-Martin employees in the art of soldering. There are many other programs that are in the works.
Other programs the college has added in recent years are: radiography, digital media, supply chain management, engineering technology and business organizational management.
That doesn’t include many other health care and nursing education opportunities added in recent years. The college has added other specializations, including paralegal services, equine studies and more.
“I get more demands called on us every day from our business owners and we are just trying to find the resources and better ways to expand when state money isn’t there,” Henningsen said. “This is a success story and folks here are working real hard to make sure we have the best community in the country.”
Henningsen said the college has also stepped up to fill another need: educating schoolteachers. The local school district is the top employer and there is a teacher shortage.
“These are all workforce development issues,” Henningsen noted. “It is not just about logistics.”
Stephanie Cortes, dean of health sciences, said CF’s mission must evolve with the community’s needs.
“It speaks to our mission as a state college that we want to make sure that doors are open to all students who want to pursue a degree,” she noted.
CF’s nursing school just celebrated its 55th anniversary a few weeks ago. The college added radiography a year ago and the first class will graduate in May.
Cortes touted CF’s new paramedic-to-RN program.
“There is an urgent need for nurses,” she noted, adding that there is a lot of expansion all over town. “And that need will continue.”
Rob Wolf, the dean of business, technology and technical education, said getting residents into the classroom is the key to success.
“We want to encourage these students and let them know they have options,” he noted. “They can continue their education. We are creating skills for our students and it is working. They are finding good, high-paying jobs.”
Wolf said the CF is working to create more “articulation agreements with the high schools.” That is where students can earn college credits that can be applied to CF’s certifications and degrees.
Six years ago, the college began streamlining its college. It dropped high-cost, low-attendance programs, such as automotive mechanics.
“We were trying not to duplicate what Marion Technical College or Marion technical Institute were doing,” Wolf noted. “We decided to focus on high-skilled, high-wage jobs that had demand.
He also noted that “it is a great to be young. It is a great to time to have options.”
And local students are responding. In the eight CF programs added in the past five years, enrollment has more than doubled from 632 to 1,268.
“You will never achieve the American dream on $13 per hour,” Henningsen said. “Do we need workers in those jobs that make $13 an hour? Yes, we do. But that shouldn’t be their life’s ambitions.”
Joe Callahan can be reached at 867-4113 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoeOcalaNews.