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THE ISSUE: Placing greater emphasis on technical education.
OUR OPINION: It’s time — and critically important.
Withlacoochee Technical Institute held a first-ever Career Expo and Open House in early March to help prospective students learn more about its training and certification programs. By all reports, it was a great success. Raising awareness of tech training programs at WTI is a good thing, because technical education is more important than ever.
The recent “Closing the Skills Gap” study in Citrus, Marion and Levy counties commissioned by Workforce Connection indicated employers are planning to add hundreds of jobs here over the next few years but bemoan the lack of workers with needed skills. No question: We need to do better with job development and skills development.
WTI Director Denise Willis often has said she’ll work with employers who need specialty training for employees or potential employees — and currently, workforce development funds will underwrite the effort.
Here’s the challenge: WTI needs time to gear up for training programs not currently on offer, but businesses can’t always look a year or more down the road to identify their needs. When opportunities present themselves, businesses may need to react quickly.
While the big push in secondary education is college readiness, it’s clear that plenty of folks aren’t interested in — or suited for — college. They’ll do better for themselves by getting a solid technical education and some hands-on training.
In addition to technical training, there must be an emphasis on the basic academic skills of math, reading and writing, employers say. Too many new workers need remediation in those areas. They also are looking for candidates with such “employability skills” as a positive attitude, showing respect, good work ethic, critical thinking, and good communication skills.
Fortunately, WTI offers a program it calls Applied Academics to “strengthen the student’s academic, technical and employability skill sets.”
Let’s don’t make it necessary for businesses to seek workers elsewhere. WTI and Citrus County Schools leaders must proactively partner in the worlds of business and economic development so they can spot needs, trends and opportunities early, and prepare for them.
Businesses need to advise the training community of their needs as early as possible in the process. Workforce Connection needs to continue supporting the employer-focused training efforts already underway. It also must act decisively in networking with partners to create a strong, deep talent pool to benefit employers currently in place and help lure new ones to our area.
To reach a successful, dynamic future for Citrus County will require comprehensive cooperation among education, training, economic development and workforce support partners, as well as the community at large. Let’s make it happen.