The Hernando County school district needs a new course offering for its fledgling vocational training programs: Marketing 101. The basics of researching customer needs, developing a marketing strategy and delivering information to the target audience clearly have been absent. The district cancelled two of its three initial classes — food preparation and manufacturing — because of meager enrollment. It is an embarrassing start for the adult technical education program that has been sought by Hernando's economic development community to better match job seekers with employment opportunities.
The school district acknowledged that not enough potential students knew about the classes. It's a familiar scenario. The district's initial driver's education offerings in 2011 attracted few students because they didn't know about the new evening program. It does little good to plan a curriculum, recruit instructors and find open space for classes if you fail to tell the students about it. Communication between the district and the community must improve on these nontraditional course offerings.
That is particularly true of adult vocational education. The lack of a public school program in Hernando County has meant that potential students here travel to New Port Richey or Inverness for job training. It also means that, combined, the school districts in Pasco and Citrus receive more than $4 million in vocational education funding from Tallahassee that has not been available to Hernando.
More important, it has frustrated the people charged with trying to diversity the Hernando County economy by ending the over-reliance on residential construction as the employment base. The underwhelming vocational offerings in Hernando are a sharp contrast to other locales'. The Citrus County school district has 17 programs at its Withlacoochee Technical Institute covering such diverse topics as practical nursing, information technology, law enforcement and industrial machinery repair. And consider the response in Citrus when Covanta Energy couldn't find qualified welders for its specialized steel pipe operations in Homosassa. The county, the company, the school district and Central College of Florida worked together to ensure that training was available.
The federal Office of Vocational and Adult Education estimates that three-quarters of all employment openings over the next three years will require job-related training. It would make sense for Hernando County to ensure that its workforce isn't left unqualified to fill those jobs.