As Florida’s economy continues to rebound from the recession, most of the new jobs being created are in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math, often called “STEM”. Much of the workforce to fill those positions is trained in the state’s community colleges, and that’s true for the rest of the nation. President Barack Obama highlighted the need for STEM-based workforce training in his State of the Union address, and as Lynn Hatter reports, his education secretary talked about it during a trip to Florida’s capital city on Wednesday.
At Tallahassee Community College's Advanced Manufacturing Program, students are getting up-close and personal with equipment they're likely to find in production centers, like this industrial glue mixer. Bruce Batton heads the program. And he says the hands-on approach to learning is a major part in how the manufacturing process is taught.
"I really love that principle of where, you talk about something, you discuss it for 30-45 minutes, and then you’re up doing it. You’re reinforcing everything you just talked about and they’re doing the measurements, they’re doing the calculations and they’re seeing, oh yeah, that’s how that affects this. That’s how that works.”
Many of the students at TCC’s training program go straight into jobs at companies like Danfoss Turbo Core, where employees are busy making compressors that can cool buildings the size of football fields.
Danfoss' Human Resources Director David Bowman says these are the kind of jobs, and partnerships needed to keep the U.S. staying ahead of its global competitors.
Sound- "You go back to the high school student who wants to go into that field. That's where business will be going. That's where the future lies, and if the U.S. isn't on board and leading that curve, then another country will."
And its partnerships like the one between TCC and companies like Danfoss that President Barack Obama says he wants more of.
Sound- “Join me, in a national commitment to training two million Americans with the skills that will lead directly to a job.”
In his State of the Union address, the President made a call for more workforce training programs at community and state colleges. Something also highlighted by U.S. Education Secretary Arnie Duncan as he stopped at TCC Wednesday to expound on the president’s idea for what science and technology-based workforce training, means for the nation’s economic future.
“Our country will get back on its feet, and community colleges are this amazing tool to help families get the skills they need. You know, healthcare jobs, green energy jobs, STEM, whatever it may be, community colleges are the answer. So I’m out traveling the country visiting many community colleges and really trying to shine a spotlight on what’s going on to strengthen families and strengthen communities.”
Duncan’s visit and the President’s comments come as the Florida legislature works to find ways to revamp the state’s higher education systems to produce more graduates with Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or “STEM” degrees. The focus has mostly been on universities. But right now, the community colleges are putting out students with the training and certifications to go directly into the workforce.
However, a series of legislative changes over the years, such as allowing community colleges to offer four-year degrees, has state lawmakers like Senator Evelyn Lynn worried that that the schools may try to act more like their larger university counterparts—and lose their focus on the kind of career-training they are known for.
“It’s amazing…community colleges are the key to our workforce needs in the state of Florida. And I am fearful that we have gotten them into this desire to go with a four-year degree to such an extent that we are losing the very important focus of that two year program, or that certificate program or any other kind of workforce program.”
As Florida begins to mold its version of higher education reform State leaders like House Speaker Dean Cannon say they want to focus on the structure of the system and make sure that the focus on workforce training doesn’t get lost.