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  1. Opinion

The path from classroom to career | Column

The preparation for rewarding careers for Florida students is in plain sight, writes Patricia Levesque.

Florida has always been a leader in exploring new worlds and horizons. Not only is America’s first city—St. Augustine—in our great state, the Space Coast has been the literal launching pad for space exploration.

We have the opportunity to continue as a national leader in creating new paths to success. It’s an opportunity we must seize to ensure all Floridians can aim high for their careers and life.

Across the country, we’re seeing a resurgence of interest in workforce education and the importance of aligning students’ courses with state and regional workforce demands. Put simply, we need to make sure that high school students earn credentials that will actually prepare them for life after graduation including college, further vocational training or entering the workforce with a high-paying job.

Patricia Levesque [Foundation for Florida's Future]

Earlier this year, the first of its kind analysis was released by ExcelinEd and showed how credentials students earn actually align with employer demand. As in other areas of K-12 education, Florida is ahead of many states when it comes to collecting data on industry credentials.

And, the data showed that Florida students who earn industry credentials are more likely to graduate on time and enroll in both two-year and four-year higher education institutions.

Unfortunately, the report also shows that high-paying jobs are going unfilled in Florida and too many high school students are earning industry credentials that have little practical use after graduation.

The effectiveness of Florida’s industry credential courses depends on job demand related to the credentials. For example, in 2017 there were nearly 5,500 open Florida jobs that required a CompTIA Security+ credential, a globally recognized credential for IT security professionals. However, in 2017-18, only 20 Florida high school students earned this credential. There is such high demand for this credential that employers will pay $70,000 a year or more for qualified workers.

Another example is in the world of automobile service technicians. In 2017, the year in which we have the latest data, there were more than 13,500 job postings that requested the “Automobile Service Excellence Certification” in Florida. But fewer than 2,000 students earned that certification for a job that pays more than $40,000 on average.

And as Florida’s economy booms and construction sites span the state, there were more than 1,200 jobs for welders, but only a bit more than 200 students earned that certification.

On the other hand, more than 40,600 Florida students recently earned an Adobe Certified Associate credential – the most popular credential offered in Florida schools. Yet about only 9,000 open Florida jobs require that credential.

These disparities make it clear that educators and policymakers need to partner to identify which credentials to promote or discontinue.

Florida’s recent workforce education law – HB 7071 – will help align credentials with workforce needs. It supports Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order from earlier this year that seeks to make Florida the number one state in workforce education.

The governor and the Legislature are on the right track. The needs and the means are clear: We know employers need qualified workers, and we know how to prepare students to fill those positions. Investing in those opportunities by collecting timely data at a local level will keep Florida the best place to learn, work and live.

Patricia Levesque is the executive director of the Foundation for Florida’s Future and the CEO of ExcelinEd which advocate for student-centered education policies.

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