RIVERVIEW — Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is making vocational training the cornerstone of the jobs plan he is promoting in his bid to be the state's next governor.
The Bartow Republican on Monday unveiled ideas for modest enhancements to modernize and improve awareness of existing state programs aimed at technical training for high school students and recent graduates.
Putnam said vocational training and technical colleges are "stigmatized as a second class form of education" and that many high school guidance counselors aren't letting students know there are well-paying opportunities immediately after graduation that can be an alternative to a traditional college degree.
"This is not about pitting universities against technical centers," Putnam said at Ring Power Corporation, a Riverview company that sells and services Caterpillar equipment. "It's saying we need both, and for the last 20 years our technical centers have been treated like a second class citizen. And that's going to stop."
"This is the way we rebuild the middle class," he added.
Among the ideas Putnam presented is a plan to create a standardized course numbering system so credits earned for completing classes are transferable from high school to any community colleges, technical schools or the state university system.
He proposed more hands-on classwork for high school students that can serve as "credit" toward earning advanced technical degrees, much like students can take advanced placement classes toward a college a degree. He also suggested a closer relationships between employers and educators so students are learning applicable skills, and greater focus on 21st century skills like coding, robotics and advanced manufacturing.
"This is not your father's shop class," Putnam said.
He would also better promote the Gold Seal Vocational Scholarship available under the Bright Futures program, which he said is grossly underused compared to the better known university scholarship program.
Asked if this would cost money, Putnam said the state is already spending "substantial sums" on these programs and it can be refocused and re-prioritized. He said there's "no evidence of results" on the $400 million the state already spends on K-12 workforce development, for example.
However, he also said there will need to be investments to modernize technical centers and high school classrooms that may not be equipped for 21st century training.
Putnam is running in the Republican primary against Rep. Ron DeSantis.