Commentary: State-private funds give life to high-school technical career paths
A technical education as early as high school can lead to a career. (Greg Eans / AP)
By: Barbara Miller
Technical education plays an important role in preparing our future work force. Oviedo High School has a flourishing automobile-service technology program, funded partly through the Foundation for Seminole County Public Schools, where students earn certifications and can launch a career in the automotive industry.
One student recently entered the automotive class as a reluctant participant, unsure how to use tools and, quite honestly, not even sure why she was taking the course. Shortly after starting this class, she realized she was attaining good technical skills that would lead to a career in the industry. Currently, she has a part-time job at a NAPA Auto Parts store while she finishes high school.
Florida is a national leader in leveraging state funds to encourage private-sector investment and involvement to make programs like this one possible. The state allocates funds as challenge grants to public-school-district education foundations for technical and career education, literacy initiatives, STEM initiatives, teaching quality, programs that serve low-performing students and programs that increase graduation rates. Education foundations must match each $1 received by the state with $1 from private philanthropy.
Since 2001, the state and private philanthropy have invested more than $73 million to improve academic achievement for more than 12 million Florida students. The Legislature has appropriated $4.5 million for the School District Education Foundation Matching Grant Program for the past two years. Last school year alone, the private sector matched this investment with $5.6 million.
As Central Florida Auto Dealers Association executive vice president, I see the tremendous value of this matching-grant program and its impact. We appreciate the foresight of our legislators and the generosity of the many donors who join us in investing in these initiatives.
A special mention goes to long-time supporter state Sen. David Simmons and a more recent champion, Rep. Bob Cortes, both Republicans from Altamonte Springs. They work diligently to educate others about the benefits the matching-grant program brings to our teachers and students — and ultimately our businesses as we try to close the skills gap and prepare the next work force for jobs that may not exist today.
With vehicle technologies advancing at a rapid pace, we need highly trained technicians who are adaptable to keep up with the industry. The Automotive Training Managers Council (ATAM) reports that “70 percent of working technicians will likely retire over the next 20 years, leaving plenty of opportunities for those who are prepared to seize them.” There is a critical shortage of new technicians, not only in Central Florida but across the nation.
Our reluctant automotive student at Oviedo High School now has a career prospect and a goal of continuing her automotive education at Seminole State College. One technical-education class — a program largely supported by private philanthropy and state matching funds — shaped her future.
Barbara Miller is executive vice president of the Central Florida Auto Dealers Association.
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