Shannon Nickinson: Workers with technical skills vital to Pensacola

Does Pensacola have the skills to pay the bills?

Signs may be turning toward yes.

The announcement that Pensacola State will host the state conference for one of the leading career and technical education conferences from 2018 to 2020 may be a sign that we’re getting there.

PSC will host SkillsUSA Florida State Leadership and Skills Conference and Worlds of Possibilities Career Expo.

The events bring thousands of people to town, and exposes hundreds of students to the options that career and technical education can offer them for the future.

PSC President Edward Meadows said the last time his college hosted the conferences, from 2012-2014, thousands of attendees generated nearly $10 million in economic activity for the Pensacola metro economy.

That’s important to the local economy, which relies on tourism and visitors for a critical piece of our overall economic puzzle. Conventions and conferences can be an important addition to a beach-based tourism economy.

And they are a piece that the community has struggled with, given the constraints of the aging Pensacola Bay Center and the absence of a true convention center in our market.

Bringing SkillsUSA back to Pensacola also will shine a much-needed spotlight on the impact that education beyond high school can have on a person’s life.

Data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity shows that workers with an associate’s degree earn a median income of $51,159 in the Escambia-Santa Rosa County area, compared to the $25,777 those with only a high school diploma can expect to earn.

SkillsUSA is a chance to broadcast the message that technical and career training is a vital and viable path to a good life.

That a four-year liberal arts degree is not the only path to success.

That was clearly on the mind of Gulf Power CEO Stan Connally as he spoke at the event. Connally is part of a group of Pensacola business leaders who are working with StriveTogether, a consulting company based in Cincinnati that helps communities focus on a continuum of education.

Gulf Power, Navy Federal Credit Union, Baptist Health and Sacred Heart Health Systems are paying Strive $50,000 to bring that process to Pensacola.

“The cradle-to-career view of education is important,” Connally said. “It underscores this community’s commitment to young people.

“We’re going to stand up and show the rest of the state and, frankly, the rest of the country that this is a community that gets it when it comes to career and technical education,” he said.

The national shortage of workers with the technical skills affects Pensacola, too. It is linked to the social stereotype of technical and two-year training being for people who couldn’t cut it at “real” college.

Today’s workforce shows nothing could be further from the truth.

For Pensacola, where only 24.5 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or higher, embracing all forms of higher education is the key to improving the quality of life for all of our friends and neighbors.

Not just the ones with a four-year degree.


Shannon Nickinson is a fellow at the Studer Community Institute, a Pensacola nonprofit dedicated to using journalistic strategies to improve the quality of life in the community, and is editor of Follow her on Twitter @snickinson. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Shannon Nickinson


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