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Local Students Explore Career Possibilities In Skilled Trades As State Mulls More Workforce Training

Morgan Martin

Nearly 140 exhibitors and 500 students from Leon, Gadsden and Wakulla Counties came out to observe professionals up close at the Leon Works Expo. They were able to watch licensed barbers groom young men, get hands-on experience welding with Lively Technical College and perform CPR on dummies at the Leon County’s Paramedics table.  

Jamira Moore, a student at Rickards High School says,"It’s a lot of job opportunities out here". "We have a lot of people talking to us about going to college majoring in business, which is my major. We also have a lot of construction workers and we also have people who work in the army and air force and they all were telling us different ways that we could get into it and how they have programs for us during the summer time.”

This is the first year the expo has gone regional, attracting students from across the Big Bend. And it comes as the region, along with the rest of the state, begins to feel the shortages in trade industries from construction to nursing. 

“Skilled careers are within those top 10 jobs that you need," noted Tallahassee-Leon County Director of Economic Vitality Cristina Paredes. "From butchers and meat cutters, to tile layers, radiologist – all those are in the skilled career. And it’s really important that students understand the opportunities that exist and the Leon Works Expo does just that." 

Tallahassee City Commissioner Curtis Richardson, is also the Community Relations Coordinator at Lively Technical College. He says they have more than 40 different programs at Lively and completion of any of those programs guarantees employment. But, there is a concern within the workforce industry.

“We’ve got a situation where the average age of workers in those areas now is between 55-60 years old. They’re getting ready to retire but we haven’t done a good enough job of training the replacements for these retirees and so we’re facing a critical shortage in the workface in the construction trades for instance in automatic mechanics and the healthcare industry and the list goes on and on," he said.

This kind of re-emphasis isn’t just happening in the shadow of the capitol. In his State of the State Address, Governor Ron DeSantis prioritized workforce development. He is trying to push Florida toward more technical education programs.  

“Our workforce initiatives include grants to place students in apprentice-ships, money to train teachers and computer science and funds for workforce programs within in our state college system. These reforms will make a difference and these reforms deserve your support. Now Florida has made strides in primary and secondary education since I graduated from public school in Don Eden in 1997 but we have a lot more to do," he said.                                                    

DeSantis is asking state lawmakers for $36 million to fund workforce education. $10 million of that would fund apprentice-ships and the rest would fund workforce programs in the state’s college system.  There are nearly two dozen bills pending in the legislature to encourage students to pursue skilled trades and for schools to offer more programs.