Educational institutions must align themselves with changing needs to address and fulfill employer demands for knowledgeable skilled workers. Charlotte Technical Center in Port Charlotte, Florida, has taken a proactive approach to its role as educator by providing quality innovative technical education for its students.
“The single most important thing companies are looking for are highly skilled, highly educated workers,” said President Obama in a speech to Miami Central High School in 2011.
Knowledge is power. It does make a difference. It produces a society of creative thinkers and problem solvers who will meet the demands of the real the world and the workforce. It strengthens the economy in an increasingly competitive world.
“The trends in education are more toward developing problem solvers,” says Deelynn Bennett, the center’s director. “We’re leaning more toward the well-rounded person that is employable, that has strong character traits and attendance responsibility and also has the skills that are associated with workforce needs. That’s where our institution comes in to play.”
Formerly known as Charlotte Vocational Technical Center, the school opened in 1980 and changed its name to Charlotte Technical Center in 2001. In the 2014-2015 school year, it had an enrolment of over three hundred students and offered fifteen technical programs for post-secondary students and twenty programs for high school level students.
The school creates a project-based learning environment with hands-on experience that builds on basic foundational knowledge. “It moves from total dependency in problem solving with regards to the skills that are being taught within the program,” explains Ms. Bennett. “We’re trying to produce students that serve the community as problem solvers and that have strong communication skills.”
These new skills are required to keep pace with employers’ expectations in a rapidly changing workplace. A look at short-term solutions will provide an insight into skilled workforce needs today, while long-term forecasting will address the anticipated skill needs of tomorrow.
Ms. Bennett acknowledges that looking ahead is critical. “That’s what’s most important – to know what’s going on out there and know what’s coming in.” She works closely with the Charlotte County Economic Development Committee which keeps a watchful eye on economic trends and can provide some direction for the technical center. “You have to know what those business trends are when you start to develop a program,” she explains. “We want to be a facility that serves our community.”
As an example of shifting business needs, she refers to the construction industry in the county which struggled in the past but now is experiencing a boom. “We have a strong connection with our Charlotte Desoto [County] Builders Association.” The center has been reaching out to the association to create an HVAC program in anticipation of skilled worker needs in this sector.
“It takes a good nine months to create a strong program… You really have to establish a strong group of people that are going to be on your advisory committee to help you prepare a program of study,” Ms. Bennett says, noting that students in the new HVAC program will be hired by the same people that helped put the program together initially.
Charlotte Technical Center’s partnership with businesses in the community continues to benefit students’ academic careers by fostering that connection between student and employer. Ms. Bennett further explains this connection by providing another example of how its partnerships can, and do, achieve goals together.
Charlotte Technical Center has an agreement with Port Charlotte’s Consulate Healthcare – the largest healthcare provider in Florida – through the center’s Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) program.
Consulate Healthcare approached Charlotte Technical Center to form of a partnership because, “they want to be able to pay for students that don’t have the dollars to be able to pay for the training themselves,” Ms. Bennett notes. “We’re going to host this training on their site.”
The students will be hired by Consulate once they graduate, “because there’s such need for CNAs,” she says. “We’re trying to partner with more businesses out there to provide a training program specific to a business’s need. … If you can provide some specificity training for that particular job that’s out there, you’re going to put that student right into the workforce making money. And in some cases, if it’s high skill, high wage, it’s good money.”
The economic landscape is ever changing as are the career choices, and industry-specific certifications are crucial in providing students with the tools required to open doors to employment. For most employers, certifications are a must in terms of showcasing employee readiness and are crucial for closing the skills gap. For the student, the attainment of a certification builds confidence and a vested interest in the academic process, creating a sense of achievement and self-worth.
Charlotte Technical Center offers industry certifications for its programs, remaining current as to industry certifications requirements. Instructors maintain a knowledge base about these requirements that will enable students to pass certifications. “There is usually industry certification or a state licensure program aligned to all the programs that we offer,” affirms Ms. Bennett. Students may move directly into the workforce with their one or two year certifications or continue on into another post-secondary institution towards a higher degree with articulated credits. “The program monitoring is a real important piece,” she adds.
Further, its practical job experience exposure is reinforced with assistance in resume writing, mock interviews, internships and job shadowing. The center also monitors the employment and placement rate to derive a better understanding of the employment arena.
All students are enrolled in SkillsUSA, a partnership of educators, students and industry representatives with the mandate of ensuring a skilled workforce now and into the future. This national organization assists in preparing high school and college students for careers in skilled trades and technology with a focus on confidence building, leadership and communication skills. SkillsUSA programs enable students to compete in local, state and national competitions to showcase their leadership and occupational skills.
SkillsUSA is Charlotte Technical Center’s career technical skills organization (CTSO) in which all students are mandated to be enrolled. “They can still decide if they want to compete or not,” explains Ms. Bennett. “All students have a career and college component as part of their standards for that curriculum… As they compete, they move up in to different levels.”
High school students in their junior or senior year may apply to the center to be dual enrolled at a community college or university. Upon successful completion of their college or university course, credits received are applied to their high school diploma or college degree or certificate.
Dual enrolment enables a student to jump-start their college education by providing a sense of college or university classes, and it is a cost efficient way to attain credits while still in high school. “Dual enrolment is state local articulation agreements and industry certifications,” notes Ms. Bennett. “Anytime you create a post-secondary program which is a career dual enrolled program, the articulation agreement from one phase to the next is very, very important.”
She further clarifies that, “it depends on your local articulation agreements and the Department of Education state articulation agreements which all state colleges, which used to be the community colleges, have to accept.”
The advantage is realized when a student is enrolled in the postsecondary adult vocational (PSAV) program number as career dual enrolled. “They get those articulated post-secondary credits and they save a large sum of money.”
Charlotte Technical Center is one of five technical centers in southwestern Florida and was the fastest growing for centers under 2500 students in 2012-2013. What makes Charlotte Technical Center unique is that, “we try to offer programs here that they don’t offer in the high schools,” Ms. Bennett continues, saying that its small size may account for its growth along with the fact that, “we really work to try to build strong relationships with our students.”
The experience for students at Charlotte Technical Center can be seen as life changing on so many levels concludes Ms. Bennett. “We want our students to leave here with personal evaluation – a sense of purpose. We want them to be a reflective thinker and a problem solver. … If they can exit with those skills, that’s how I define success as it applies to educational achievement.”