BY SHARON HILLSTROM

College graduates from the class of 2019 are finding the strongest job market since 2007, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). But students with a paid internship under their belts have the best chance of receiving job offers.

For graduates of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM), that’s good news because the institution is diligent about creating opportunities for students to intern with businesses in the Manatee-Sarasota community. And that’s good news for the region’s businesses because 92 percent of USFSM graduates remain in Florida and 80 percent work in the Tampa Bay region.

Creating a local pipeline of talent is critical to the quality of the region’s workforce and the ability of businesses to expand in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Nurturing a high-quality workforce is essential to our economy as we seek to recruit and retain companies with well-paid careers, attract capital investment by businesses, and support the quality of life that makes people want to live, work and play here.

USFSM is one of five universities that comprise the Cross College Alliance in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Each institution has a unique focus, with USFSM the only comprehensive undergraduate and graduate institution. It’s a branch campus of USF – a global research university with 180 undergraduate and 150 graduate and professional programs.

At the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. (EDC), we help facilitate relationships between Manatee County businesses and schools in the Alliance, including USFSM. We are encouraged that USFSM is eager to meet corporate interests that will improve our community while providing opportunities for students to build their career paths.

An ever-expanding internship program is one example of the symbiotic relationship between higher education and local businesses.

In the past two years, more than 400 USFSM students completed internships in the Manatee-Sarasota region. According to a proprietary NACE study quoted by the university, employers give the branch campus’ student interns an average career readiness grade of 95%, compared to 63% for the nation’s recent graduates.

Of the internships USFSM has tracked, the organizations that employ a significant number of the campus’ students include various departments in Manatee and Sarasota county governments, as well as the school districts; Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium; and Florida’s 12th Circuit and its various departments. Beyond that, USFSM has an excellent track record for placement with many businesses in the region in fields like insurance, accounting, and hospitality.

Listening to employers continues to drive USFSM to translate workforce needs into degree programs for students. The campus is expanding offerings for risk management, insurance, cybersecurity, and information technology. Additionally, a new foundations of engineering course will enable more students to complete engineering courses at Sarasota-Manatee before finishing bachelor’s degrees in Tampa.

In January 2020, the university will welcome its first cohort of 30 nursing students in a new Accelerated Bachelor of Science in nursing, second degree, and 50 more students will join the program in fall 2020. The program can be completed in just 16 months, which will help meet a critical need for nursing professionals in the region’s healthcare facilities.

Additionally, this fall, over 400 qualified high school students will be able to take college courses through USFSM’s dual enrollment program, enabling young people to launch their college and professional careers more rapidly. Dual enrollment also helps retain students in the area for college and careers, stemming the “brain drain” that our community has experienced in the past.

Having five universities in a community this size is a rare asset and an incredible opportunity for creating a workforce that attracts and retains businesses with terrific jobs. USFSM is stepping up in a big way to fulfill that promise. To learn more about opportunities for businesses to partner with the regional campus, contact Greg Smogard, Ph.D., assistant vice president for innovation and business development, at 941-359-4632 or gsmogard@sar.usf.edu.