Pathways to Prosperity in Career & Technical Education
Back in the day, vocational education, or trade school, started with home economics (for girls) and shop class (for boys), then progressed into training for jobs like secretarial, auto repair, carpentry and plumbing, among others. Great jobs, but perhaps not viewed as careers—careers required traditional four-year college.
How things have changed! Today, there are many pathways to great careers that do not require a four-year degree. Career & Technical Education provides a wealth of opportunity for students, starting in elementary school and progressing through middle school, high school and college. Alachua County’s K-12 school magnet programs offer credentialing in fields as diverse as robotics, culinary, veterinary, agriculture, gaming, biotechnology, finance, entrepreneurship, early childhood education and many more, with a wealth of additional programs offered at our No. 1 ranked Santa Fe College.
And more is in the works, because much more is needed for our children and our families. If Florida functioned as its own country, we would have the 17th largest economy in the world, reports the Florida Chamber Foundation. As the third most populous state in the country, Florida has been creating one of every 11 jobs offered in the United States, and we welcome 900 net new residents each day.
For many, this is our Florida: prosperous and propelling new opportunity. But this is not the Florida for too many of our residents, as more than 14.8 percent, or 3 million people, live in poverty. Of that total, 870,505 are children under age 18, and more than 75,000 students enrolled in Florida public schools are homeless.
Here in Greater Gainesville—home of the University of Florida, a top-7 research university and Santa Fe College, the No. 1 ranked college, as well as thriving health care and entrepreneurial economic engines—one might expect to find the prosperous Florida, and of course, that is the case for those who enjoy the many advantages available in our college community. One might hope that at the very least, our percentage of children living in poverty would be far lower than the state’s. But that is not the case. A significant number of our community’s children and their families—almost 21 percent, higher than the state and the nation—live in poverty and so continue to be shut out of opportunity.
To eliminate childhood poverty, we must focus on both our children and their families. One key way to do that is to commit to upskilling parents, with pathways to better-earning ability and upward mobility, to help the more than 15,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 64 who are without a high school diploma, as documented by the U.S. Census. And we know from our research that the Greater Gainesville region needs this focus—with less than a high school diploma, workers earn an average salary of $17,433.
Locally and statewide, we are tackling this problem in several ways. In 2019, the Florida Legislature unanimously passed House Bill 7071 to establish the SAIL to 60 Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to increase the number of working-age Floridians with a high-value postsecondary certificate, degree or training experience to 60 percent by 2030. The Florida Legislature also created the Florida Talent Development Council. The Council was tasked to develop a strategic plan to improve education and training attainment and the alignment of programs and credentials to address the needs of Florida employers.
Additionally, the Florida Chamber Prosperity Initiative, established by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and its Florida Chamber Foundation, is working to reduce childhood poverty zip code by zip code in Florida.
And here locally, the Greater Gainesville Chamber’s Alachua County Education Compact (ACEC) Steering Committee intends to engage the National Center for Arts & Technology (NCAT) to conduct a 10-month feasibility study to evaluate the potential for a Center for Arts & Technology (CAT) or Career & Technical Education Center (CTEC) in the Greater Gainesville region.
The feasibility study will focus on Greater Gainesville’s demographics to identify the specific additional employment and educational needs of our region, relative to youth arts and adult training programs. Working with this data, we can pursue more Career & Technical Education programming to increase the pathways to opportunity for all of our citizens.
For more information about Career & Technical Education, contact Ian Fletcher, the Greater Gainesville Chamber’s Vice President of Talent and Education.