At Palm Beach State College, local employers call the shots.
They "tell us the skills they want their employees to have" and programs are developed around those requirements, said Richard Reeder, who teaches advanced manufacturing at the Lake Worth-based college.
It worked for Dee Begovic, who needed employees who could do old-fashioned metal work and also operate new software tools. The owner of Skill-Metric Machine and Tool in Delray Beach hired nine students from Palm Beach State College's nationally certified advanced manufacturing skills program.
"When they come out of the program, they know exactly what to do," Begovic said. "They're qualified."
As state lawmakers focus on holding Florida's higher education system more accountable for producing workers with the skills employers need, business leaders are pointing to programs like the one at Palm Beach State College as possible models.
"I'm a really big fan of our state colleges. They're very good at being responsive to the needs of employers. I would hold them out as the shining examples," said David Hart, who heads governmental affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
The Manufacturers Association of Florida is lobbying legislators for a bill that would provide incentives to colleges like Palm Beach State and Broward College that produce certified students. Currently, high schools receive additional funding for each industry certification a student earns, but colleges do not.
Palm Beach State College is expanding its decade-old program -- the longest-running in the region -- with the help of a $975,000 grant from the Labor Department awarded last year.
Both recent college graduates and the unemployed are retooling their careers with a curriculum based on what employers have told the college they need. Some college graduates enroll in the program because they've been unable to find a job in their field.
"They say, 'I have a degree and now I'd like to have a job,' " Reeder said.
Students have found jobs with medical device manufacturers and aerospace companies, as well as "mom-and-pop" machine shops, Reeder said.
All 100 students in last year's program, which includes machining, welding and air-conditioning skills, found employment, Reeder said. About half were in the advanced manufacturing program.
"We see our mission as producing workers for businesses in our community. We're not just giving certificates and saying 'have a nice day,' " Reeder said.
Broward College also received a grant and is beginning a similar training program. But it already has a partnership with Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, where a dozen students are learning advanced manufacturing techniques and earning six college credits.
The program is getting the 17- and 18-year-olds to be "career ready" when they graduate high school.
Oftentimes, "it's difficult for the students to see the future. We motivate them to see a future," said Principal Angel Almanzar.
Florida's manufacturing association recently launched an "Adopt a High School" program, asking manufacturers to adopt a high school in their community and get involved in helping to develop curriculum.
Association chairman Al Stimac, who says he can't find enough skilled workers to expand his business, Machining Solutions near Orlando, was the first to adopt a school. His company polled high school students before and after a recent tour.
"They had no idea that manufacturing had such great jobs," Stimac said.
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