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DeSantis Bill Signing Highlights Statewide Push For Workforce Education

A young woman practices on a dummy.
Tallahassee Community College

Florida’s statewide push for workforce education and training is growing, and this week the Governor signed a bill expanding apprenticeships. Meanwhile, in the Capital City, similar efforts are happening at the local level.

In Merritt Island this week, Governor Ron DeSantis touted apprenticeship programs as an alternate pathway to creating a highly-skilled workforce.

“I think it’s important that our education system recognize that there’s more than one way to get advanced knowledge and skills beyond the traditional four-year brick and ivy university, and some of these concrete skills are in as much demand as ever,” DeSantis said.

Space Florida, the state’s aerospace business development agency, served as the backdrop for the bill signing. The measure modifies requirements for high school graduation to allow for more career training curriculum. But the move wasn’t a surprise coming from DeSantis, who since the campaign trail has heralded workforce education as a positive for the state economy.

“If you look, we have a large number of students across the county, including in Florida who end up with a four-year degree, and then end up in a job they could have had out of high school,” DeSantis said during a Republican primary debate last year. “So, I want to focus on concrete skilled trades, but also science and technology and computers, because I think they will be able to get skills and be immediately employable without having to go deep in debt.”

Republican Senate president Bill Galvano echoed some of the same sentiments during the governor’s inaugural festivities in January.

“We need to have a nexus between what we are teaching our students and what the opportunity is that is out in the state, and at all levels – K-12, but especially in our technical colleges and our state college system,” Galvano told a packed room for DeSantis’ ‘Thought Leaders Luncheon.’

It isn’t just Republicans who are touting career training and apprenticeships. Then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum made them a talking point of his campaign in the run up to the 2018 election.

“We’re also going to re-infuse back into our public education system of this state, the kind of thing that used to exist. Because while college worked for me, for my older brothers it was woodwork, shop, mechanical, electrical, technical, all of those kinds of programs,” Gillum said. All of those kinds of programs that, if you are not on a college-bound track, then it’s okay not to be on a college-bound track.”

Meanwhile in the Capital City, Gillum’s successor Mayor John Dailey rolled out a workforce education program paid for by the City. It’s an effort to create new road construction jobs, given that a voter-backed penny sales tax extension guarantees $850 million worth of local road construction in the next 20 years.

“The more opportunities that we can provide – not everyone’s going to college, and that’s okay,” Dailey said. “You can make a great living in skilled labor, and we’re trying to promote that with this program.”

Dubbed ‘Build Up Tallahassee,’ the program trains participants who are 18 and older on heavy equipment, and prepares them for commercial licensing tests.

The workforce education and apprenticeships bill DeSantis signed into law this week also launches an initiative to increase the number of Floridians with a postsecondary degree, certificate or training experience to 60 percent by 2030.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.