For Career & Technical Education programs to succeed, collaboration between business and education must occur. As President & CEO of Realityworks, Inc, I’ve seen firsthand the impact of successful partnerships: Not only do students learn valuable academic, technical and employability skills, but they do so through relevant, workforce-driven programs that provide valuable real-world, hands-on learning opportunities.
State CTE policies are a key part of successful industry-education collaboration. In previous blog posts, I explored the welding and manufacturing program that Michigan educators worked with industry representatives to expand thanks to funds from House Bill 4313, and the health occupations program that Oregon educators worked with local businesses to develop with funds from a career-readiness grant. This month, we’re looking at St. Petersburg College (SPC) in Pinellas County, Florida. In April, the four-year state college was awarded a $1,596,858 grant to start a Mechatronics and Electromechanical Technician training program.
SPC was one of 11 recipients of almost $22 million in Florida Job Growth Grant Funds, which the state expects to create nearly 19,000 additional jobs statewide. In SPC’s case, the program will ensure participants receive quality training for high-demand advanced manufacturing positions.
“A program like this has been on our radar for some time, but until the funding opportunity was there, we hadn’t been able to move forward,” said Dr. Natavia Middleton, Dean of Natural Sciences and Engineering at St. Petersburg College. “This program will give participants the chance to develop transferable skills they can use to move onto the next step in their professional career.”
According to Middleton, those next steps wouldn’t be possible without the help of area employers like Lockheed Martin Aeronautics. SPC worked closely with the Pinellas Park, FL-based branch of the global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company to design the program and ensure that it offers pathways participants can use to develop in-demand skills.
“When we started conceptualizing this project, Lockheed Martin was in on it from the very beginning, telling us what they need and what areas of growth they see,” recalled Middleton. “A lot of people in the [advanced manufacturing] sector are taking into consideration the fact that people are leaving, and there’s a wealth of knowledge to be shared. We, along with employers like our local Lockheed Martin, want to make sure those opportunities are visible, that they’re there and that students can take advantage of them.”
SPC’s Mechatronics and Electromechanical Technician training program will provide hands-on technical training for future mechatronics and electromechanical technicians, specialized professions that utilize mechanical knowledge alongside electrical engineering skills. SPC’s program is particularly exciting because it will be open to students on a credit and non-credit basis, which means workforce participants can pay for specialized training without enrolling at SPC as students, or enrolled students can participate and receive credit, qualify for financial aid, etc.
“We’re really thinking of the multiple entries and exist to this program,” said Middleton. “It doesn’t all start with you being an associate degree student. Our goal is to try to move students through, so they can move onto the next step in their professional career.”
The grant will fund a multitude of necessary pieces, including an SPC faculty member to oversee degree requirements, a workforce development representative to coordinate training, the renovation of SPC’s engineering lab so it can house two mechatronic simulators, plus diagnostic exams, curriculum and post-assessment training. SPC hopes to extend the grant beyond its current two-year limit, eventually offering industry certifications. It opened over the summer for workforce training, and credit courses will begin in January 2019.
“We’ve had long-standing relationships with manufacturers in our county and we pride ourselves, especially college-wide, for putting people on our advisory boards who are working within the industry,” said Middleton. “This program is something our advisory board has been talking about for a number of years, and the funding opportunity was the ignitor.”
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics will continue assisting with program development as a technical advisor.
"We value our partnership with Saint Petersburg College because it allows us to give back to the community where we live and work,” said André Trotter, Lockheed Marin Aeronautics - Pinellas General Manager. “This grant serves as one tool used to develop these students into the future talent we need in the Aerospace and Defense Industry.”
SPC’s Mechatronics and Electromechanical Technician training program is a great example of what can happen when representatives from education and industry collaborate to make the most of state CTE policies. To see other examples of successful education-industry collaboration, check out our prior coverage of House Bill 4313 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, which helped Copper Country Intermediate School District to expand their welding and manufacturing program. Another example can be found in Douglas County, Oregon, where a $432,000 career-readiness grant was used to develop a cutting-edge allied health program.
By Timm Boettcher, President & CEO, Realityworks, Inc.