Chamber Forum: Business-state college partnerships are building Florida’s talent pipeline
Ray Rodrigues is one step closer to becoming the next Chancellor for the Florida State University System

'What can we do beyond offering courses that lead to a certificate or degree?'

State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues led a 2023 Future of Florida Forum panel stressing the importance of business partnerships with state universities.

“The No. 1 reason individuals pursue education after high school is to get a good job,” Rodrigues said. “We need to make sure that we are meeting their needs, providing the education and skills that are necessary in the workplace.”

Members of Florida’s college system, which includes 28 institutions, are partnering with local and regional employers to build degree-to-job pipelines in high-priority industries.

Valencia College VP of Public Affairs and Advancement Jay Galbraith said the “hallmark” of what the college is doing is “listening to employers.”

The institution has spent the last 10 years working to build the semiconductor industry in Central Florida by connecting with employers to learn what facilities and courses the school needs to offer to ensure graduates are ready to enter the high-tech workforce.

Now, Valencia is building a 25,000-square-foot cleanroom so students can build the skills employers are looking for.

Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) AVP of Innovative Education & Partnerships Kristen Vanselow said the FGCU philosophy is “the power of and.”

“What can we do beyond offering courses that lead to a certificate or degree?” she asked before highlighting the university’s work to ensure students have an education tailored to workforce needs. That includes the development of “micro-credentials” developed in direct response to employer feedback.

Students in FGCU programs partnered with employers are “guaranteed an interview” once they graduate. Businesses are happy to bring them in because “they already know they’ve mastered some of that professional development.”

Lake Technical College Executive Director DeAnna D. Thomas said her institution has taken to sending current students to the workplace for hands-on training — it also solves the issue of on-campus space restraints.

“What we’ve been looking at is partnerships within business and industry and embedding our programs into the business. We’ve done that recently with Lake County government within the animal shelter; we offer a veterinary assistant program directly on their animal shelter campus,” she said.

“What this is doing is allowing them to experience our students and, at the same time, giving the students a monumental experience that we would never have been able to replicate within our campus grounds.”

Panelists encouraged businesses to contact their local state college to see how they could develop a partnership.

Vanselow said opening up communication and collaboration can “engage students in experiential learning opportunities throughout their time at our institutions — getting them in as interns, getting them exposed to your organization, and providing them with upskilling and reskilling opportunities.”

Thomas added, “I would say think outside of the box, come up with those creative partnerships. Know that together, if we (combine) our resources and our funds, we can really reach success at a much faster rate.”

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.

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