By Sharon Hillstrom
When Gov. Rick Scott visited Manatee Technical College (MTC) in January, the event did more than showcase a $200,000 grant to enhance advanced manufacturing skills training.
It demonstrated to the hundreds of manufacturers in Manatee County that their needs are being heard – and acted upon.
Why does that matter? It matters because advanced manufacturing is a high-skill, high-wage industry that offers dynamic careers for Manatee County residents. It matters because manufacturers considering our community for relocation can see the emphasis we place on their workforce requirements. And it matters because employers in other industries are reminded that MTC and Manatee County schools are serious about preparing young people for the workplace.
The Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. (EDC) has documented hundreds of manufacturers in Manatee County – many of them applying advanced technologies related to engineering design, robotics, and computerization. In addition to visiting these businesses individually, we convene their owners and managers for roundtable discussions.
While their business challenges vary, they all agree that workforce recruitment, retention, and training is their number one issue. This priority permeates all industries the EDC targets for business recruitment and expansion, as well as the diverse local businesses that support the EDC with private investment.
That’s why we place intense focus on our partnerships with CareerSource Suncoast – the region’s workforce development agency – and the area’s educational institutions. MTC is one of those, and we’re excited to see the advancements that continue to occur in MTC’s facility, technologies, and curriculum.
The recent state grant, the first awarded from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, is one example. The funding will help MTC purchase high-tech equipment needed to expand the Advanced Manufacturing and Production Technology program to help prepare more students for career opportunities.
Students graduating from MTC’s advanced manufacturing program enter the local workforce ready to work. They are receiving starting wages of $15 to $20 per hour and more – with full benefits – because of their training and proficiency.
Advanced manufacturing is just one of more than 50 programs MTC offers. No other single technical college in the state offers this diversity of programs, from information technology to law enforcement, nursing to automotive, accounting operations to video production, and many more. Over 4,000 students train at MTC each year, and with more than 10,000 students attending Manatee County’s high schools, the potential workforce pipeline is impressive.
The key is to prepare these students for the workplace, and that requires more than book knowledge and technical training. Employers from all industries tell us they need for people entering the workforce to have basic, “soft” skills, too. That means the ability to show up on time, work in a team, communicate well, and dress appropriately.
Attention to detail, critical thinking, interest, and aptitude for technology, and dependability are a few of the qualities that employers have identified. The demand among employers for these soft skills is so prevalent that MTC is looking at developing a related certification.
While the idea for soft skills certification was inspired by the needs of Manatee County’s advanced manufacturing companies, it would relate to any industry. With that in mind, MTC is inviting all employers to help develop the soft skills curriculum before it is offered to students at the college and in the county’s high schools. Employers who are interested in advising MTC on this certification, or any of MTC’s more than 50 industry-specific programs, may inquire via email to Workforce941@manateeschools.net.