TAMPA — County commissioners recently agreed to support a partnership with the Hillsborough County School Board to enhance manufacturing skills training for local high school students.
It is a move that breathes new life into the Hillsborough County Manufacturing Academy, an initiative launched in 2014 to address the chronic shortage of skilled workers in the area.
The Manufacturing Academy is administered by the county's Economic Development Department, with direct input from private sector manufacturers, industry associations and workforce development partners.
"We've done a lot of strategizing over the past several months about how to move the Manufacturing Academy forward," said Ken Jones, Hillsborough County economic development manager. "This is one of those steps."
Providing more skilled laborers has been an ongoing effort throughout Tampa Bay. A 2013 survey of 109 manufacturers in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties found that 40 percent were experiencing limited growth due to a lack of skilled labor.
A particular focus has been the Oldsmar area, where more than 400 companies produce everything from medical devices to aerospace components.
Initial efforts focused primarily on changing outdated perceptions of the industry in order to promote manufacturing as a viable career path. Companies offered school bus tours to entice high school students and explain they could make $14 to $15 an hour right out of high school.
Now, the new partnership will underscore training in the high schools. Jerry Custin, Upper Tampa Bay Manufacturers Association director, sees the partnership with the school board as a step in the right direction.
"There is obviously some marketing that needs to be done," Custin said. "But this switches the emphasis from being high on marketing to being high on training and deliverables that will have an impact."
The county will invest $325,000 to enhance the Pathways to Engineering program at Middleton High School; the Welding Technology programs at Hillsborough, Jefferson and Tampa Bay Technical high schools and the Industrial Machinery Maintenance and Repair program at Brewster Technical College.
The funds also will help launch a new Machining Technology program at Armwood High School.
Middleton High principal Kim Moore expressed excitement about the new changes. Middleton, a science and technology magnet, will expand its engineering curriculum to include the training necessary for students to earn their Certified Production Technician (CPT) certification, which is nationally recognized in the industry.
"We have spent a lot of time educating our parents and our students that a majority of the engineering jobs today are in manufacturing," Moore said. "Manufacturing facilities today are very high tech, very automated, which goes right along with much of what our students are doing."
The additional funding also will allow Middleton to expand its CPT summer camp program. Moore said having the camp in the summer will allow the school to specifically target students in the East Tampa community.
"It is critical that students walk out of our high school with experiences and skill sets they can use in the workforce," Moore added.
Students who complete their CPT certification will earn 15 credit hours that can be applied toward an associate's degree in engineering technology, like that offered through Hillsborough Community College.
"Those are 15 hours these students will not have to take, or pay for, if they choose to pursue a college degree," Moore noted.
With these enhanced training initiatives scheduled to take effect in the coming school year, Jones said the focus now turns to bridging the gap between classroom training and on-the-job training.
The goal will make the training more lucrative for high school teenagers interested in manufacturing fields.
"We are currently working with the Hillsborough Education Foundation to finalize an agreement that will help facilitate paid internships for students in high school-level manufacturing programs, as well as those taking part in the manufacturing program at Hillsborough Community College," Jones said.
Karen Ring can be reached at [email protected]