Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam is rolling out details of his top priority if elected — a plan to boost vocational and technical education in middle and high schools.
“I want every Floridian to have the education, skills and experience they need to find their version of the American Dream right here in the Sunshine State,” Putnam said, during a visit to Ring Power in Riverview Monday, where he highlighted his Florida Jobs First Agenda.
He says that if Florida is going to continue job growth, it needs to better prepare students who don’t pursue a four-year college degree to get jobs in trades.
Part of the proposal is to create apprenticeship programs for students, and to allow them to earn professional certification in trades while in high school. Students would also be able to gain college credits for vocational training, similar to Advanced Placement classes.
“As Governor, Putnam’s top priority will be to build a robust education pipeline that puts vocational and technical education back into middle schools and high schools, providing Florida’s students with the tools and practice necessary to find their piece of the American Dream here in Florida,” a Monday press release announced.
And at another appearance on Monday in Panama City, Putnam added, “The American dream is not simply reserved for those who have a four-year degree. There are many pathways to becoming successful in this country.”
Putnam’s “jobs first” policy is aimed at the 28 percent of Florida’s workforce who do not go on to earn post-high school degrees. He noted more than half of the 460,000 jobs expected to be created in the state’s fastest-growing employment sectors by 2025 will require advanced training but less than a four-year college degree.
But Putnam said in Panama City that in recent years “the pendulum has swung too far toward solely college prep” to the detriment of many students who may find success through vocational or technical training.
He noted that Florida has never honored a technical or vocational instructor as a teacher of the year.
“That is the most powerful example I am aware of, of how we have treated career and technical education like a second-class citizen,” Putnam said.
He also pointed to the Bright Futures scholarship program where a little over 1 percent of the 97,000 awards went to vocational students in the 2016-2017 academic year. He said at one time the “Gold Seal” vocational program provided some 11,000 scholarships a year.
“It has imploded,” Putnam said. “Part of the reason these are so underused is because of the stigma attached to career and technical education.”
At the Eastern Shipbuilding company in Panama City, Putnam noted it, like others in Florida, has trouble finding skilled workers, including welders and heavy-equipment operators.
“In every corner of our state, this is a challenge,” Putnam said.
To reform the system, Putnam said he wants to bring more technical and vocational programs back into middle and high schools.
“This is not your father’s shop class. This is a modern version of it,” Putnam said. “It involves laptops, coding, cybersecurity, health care, as well as the traditional construction trades.”
Putnam, now term-limited as the state’s Agriculture Commissioner, has telegraphed his interest in vocational training, including at a campaign stop last month at Haney Technical Center in Panama City.
“Haney Technical reinforces my vision for what I’d like to do as Governor,” he said then. “We have to restore more respect and more honor in vocational, technical and career training.
“We need to give young people a range of information about what they could earn repairing motors, building the next generation of Coast Guard cutters and working in aviation and aerospace. This is where they’re going to get the education that will result in high-paying careers.”
Putnam’s visit to Ring Power in Riverview is the start of a two-week, statewide tour highlighting his Florida Jobs First Agenda. Other stops on the tour include: Panama City, Orlando, Ft. Myers and Jacksonville.
Putnam faces U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis for the Republican nomination to replace outgoing Gov. Rick Scott.
Material from the News Service of Florida and the Associated Press was used in this post.