1. Business

New surveying training program at Pinellas Technical College will match students with employers

ST. PETERSBURG - Faye Watson grew up in Midtown. She said her technical certification from Pinellas Technical College paved the way for her first job. Now she wants to give back.

She said she has seen the lack of opportunity for many in her community, which has the highest level of poverty in the county. So she's taking matters into her own hands.

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"If you control the process, you control the outcome," she said.

With her professional experience in finance auditing and nonprofit work, Watson is collaborating with Pinellas Technical College to start a new program for prospective surveying field technicians.

She has partnered with PTC's community outreach liaison, Rohland Bryant, who started the school's public works program 30 years ago.

"Every road, every bridge has to be surveyed," Bryant said, stressing the industry's significance.

Florida has the third highest employment in the national surveying industry, and the average annual wage for surveyors in the Tampa Bay area is $71,550, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But there are plenty of job opportunities waiting to be filled in the Tampa Bay area: only 40 percent of jobs were taken as of May 2017.

Joe Weaver, sales manager for GPServ, an Orlando-based company that sells surveying equipment, says there's a big need in the industry for field technicians.

"We're calling on land surveyors every day and not a day goes by that we're not asked if we know anyone looking to get into field work," Weaver said.

Bryant said the PTC St. Petersburg campus is a prime location to learn surveying because it's next to Pinellas Trail, centrally located in St. Petersburg and close to the interstate. He said he's expecting students from both Pinellas and Hillsborough counties to register for the program debuting in October.

The land surveying program will operate through an industry-driven approach: the educational platform will be built on requirements from companies that are looking to hire.

Bryant said at least 20 companies in the Tampa Bay area that offer surveying services have offered their support to the school through providing instructors, donated equipment and opportunities for employment for graduates of the program.

"When they're work-ready, we have companies ready to hire them," Watson said.

One of those is GPServ, which will donate optical equipment for hands-on labs.

"We wanted to be very supportive of the program because we see it as filling a need for our customers," Weaver said. "We want to do everything we can to help."

Other industry partners offering their support include Superior Surveyor Services; George F. Young, Inc., in St. Petersburg; Tampa-based King Engineering Associates; and New Port Richey-based Florida Design Consultants. The Tampa offices of Fairfax, Va.-based, DewBerry and Orlando-based Southeastern Surveying and Mapping Corp. are joining, as well.

It will be a 400-hour program for five days a week: 300 hours of classroom instruction and 100 hours of internship.

Right now, Bryant and Watson are working with the industry partners to finalize the program's curriculum and set up the classroom at PTC.

Watson said she earned a data entry certification from PTC that paved the way for her first industry job, so she knew firsthand the opportunities the school provides.

"This is probably the best kept secret in Pinellas County, the resources that we have at the school," Bryant said. "Technical training is the way of the future."

To be eligible for the program, applicants need a ninth-grade reading and math level, a valid Florida driver's license and a high school diploma. If applicants are missing any of the requirements, PTC has remediation programs to help with that.

Students between 18 and 25 years are eligible for free tuition through the school's Youth Connect program.

Contact Hannah Denham at Follow @hannah_denham1.