BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners are enthusiastically on board with a program that could bring new high-tech skills training to the county — training that could benefit students, businesses and economic development efforts in Hernando.
The program is modeled after apprenticeship programs in Germany and other parts of Europe. Such apprenticeships also have been going on for years in the Carolinas.
On Tuesday, the commission voted unanimously to move forward with the program after a presentation by Bryan Kamm, acting director of the Florida Chapter of the German American Chamber of Commerce, which is trying to set up the first such program in Florida.
With Pasco County officials taking the lead, a $1.5 million appropriation has been placed in both the Florida House and Senate budget proposals to provide seed money for the program. State Sen. Wilton Simpson is a strong supporter, Kamm said.
While the state might provide start-up costs, the initial plan also has the three participating counties — Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando — each contributing $200,000 for each of the two years that follow. Kamm said other funding and in-kind donations might cut those costs significantly.
The next step in Hernando will be a meeting at 8 a.m. Thursday at the county Office of Business Development at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.
Local industries interested in participating are asked to contact Valerie Pianta, supervisor of economic development.
Kamm explained that the program will operate similar to Apprenticeship 2000, which has been in place in the Carolinas for two decades. Students interested in careers in certain high-tech fields would start their careers when they become juniors in high school.
A portion of their day would be spent working at a high-tech company, learning hands-on skills. Then, when the students are ready to move on to a community college or vocational school, the company would pay for their continued training. Companies could even cover the costs of a full engineering degree for workers, Kamm said.
The advanced skills training — along with certification in both Germany and the United States — could be obtained for precision machinists, tool and die makers, electronics technicians, CNC (or computer numerical control) machinists, CNC programmers, machine technicians, mold/plastics technicians, welding fabricators, quality inspectors and other careers.
Pasco-Hernando State College has already expressed its support for and interest in the program.
In a letter to Pasco County Administrator Michelle Baker earlier this month, PHSC president Katherine Johnson wrote: "We all feel that the overall plan has merit as it relates to workforce development in manufacturing and look forward to being involved in the continuing discussions and proposed collaborations.''
Kamm said that to make one of these programs, known as a regional Industry Certification Training Center, thrive, teamwork and buy-in is essential. Community stakeholders have to come together, including local policymakers and leaders, industries, educational institutions and "the parents and students who understand the opportunity.''
The benefit to local economic development efforts is that companies looking for skilled workers will go to places where they can find them. County Administrator Len Sossamon, who is from North Carolina, noted that many German companies have flocked to his home state as their apprenticeship program has thrived.
Kamm said that getting involved in the program doesn't mean Hernando County will get the next German automobile factory to open in the United States. But he said there are tools, parts and supplies needed by those industries that are produced by smaller ones.
"We really need something like this, and we need it to be long term,'' said commission Chairman Wayne Dukes.
"I've been waiting for this for a long time,'' said Commissioner Nick Nicholson. "I'm tickled to death. … This is great, great news.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.