Manatee Technical College listens and adapts to employers’ workforce needs | From the Sarasota Herald Tribune

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By Sharon Hillstrom

When Gov. Rick Scott visited Manatee Technical College in January, the event did more than showcase a $200,000 grant to enhance training in advanced manufacturing skills. It demonstrated to the hundreds of manufacturers in Manatee County that their needs are being heard — and acted upon.

Why does that matter? It matters because advanced manufacturing is a high-skill, high-wage industry that offers dynamic careers for Manatee County residents. It matters because manufacturers considering moving to our community can see the emphasis we place on their workforce requirements. And it matters because employers in other industries are reminded that MTC and Manatee County schools are serious about preparing young people for the workplace.

The Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. has documented hundreds of manufacturers in Manatee County — many of them applying advanced technologies related to engineering design, robotics and computerization. In addition to visiting these businesses individually, we convene their owners and managers for roundtable discussions.

While their business challenges vary, they all agree that workforce recruitment, retention and training is their No. 1 issue. This priority permeates all industries the EDC targets for business recruitment and expansion, as well as the diverse local businesses that support the EDC with private investment.

That’s why we focus on our partnerships with CareerSource Suncoast — the region’s workforce development agency — and the area’s educational institutions. MTC is one of those, and we’re excited to see the advances that continue to occur in its facility, technologies and curriculum.

The recent state grant, the first awarded from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, is one example. The money will help MTC buy high-tech equipment needed to expand its Advanced Manufacturing and Production Technology program to help prepare more students for careers.

Students graduating from MTC’s advanced manufacturing program enter the local workforce ready to work. They are receiving starting wages of $15 to $20 per hour and more — with full benefits — because of their training and proficiency.

Advanced manufacturing is just one of more than 50 programs MTC offers. No other single technical college in the state offers this diversity of programs, from information technology to law enforcement, nursing to automotive technology, accounting operations to video production, among many more. Over 4,000 students train at MTC each year, and with more than 10,000 students attending Manatee County’s high schools, the potential workforce pipeline is impressive.

The key is to prepare these students for the workplace, and that requires more than book knowledge and technical training. Employers from all industries tell us they need people entering the workforce to have basic, “soft” skills, too. That means the ability to show up on time, work in a team, communicate well and dress appropriately.

Attention to detail, critical thinking, interest and aptitude for technology, and dependability are a few of the qualities employers have identified as important to them. The demand among employers for these soft skills is so prevalent that MTC is looking into developing a related certification.

While the idea for soft-skills certification was inspired by the needs of Manatee County’s advanced manufacturing companies, it would be useful for any industry. With that in mind, MTC is inviting all employers to help develop the soft-skills curriculum before it is offered to its students and those of the county’s high schools.

Employers interested in advising MTC on this certification, or any of MTC’s more than 50 industry-specific programs, can send email to Workforce941@manateeschools.net.

We commend MTC for asking employers to help and for acting on the advice received. The college’s ability to adapt programs, add technologies and secure funding helps match the workforce with industry demands and gives Manatee County employers an important edge. Local residents will benefit, too, by succeeding in higher wage careers.

Sharon Hillstrom is president and chief executive officer of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. (BradentonAreaEDC.com). She may be contacted at info@bradentonareaedc.com or 803-9036.