BP money aims to bolster workforce training

by | Apr 24, 2024

Triumph Gulf Coast has allocated over $550 million from the BP oil spill settlement to enhance educational programs across North Florida, aiming to strengthen the local workforce through targeted investments in schools, colleges, and universities within the region.

Triumph Gulf Coast earlier this month surpassed the milestone of distributing more than $550 million in grant awards stemming from the BP oil spill settlement, with much of the funding going toward schools in an effort to boost the North Florida region’s local workforce.

The grant funds have been spread across public school districts, state colleges and universities in the eight-county region encompassing Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton, and Wakulla.

Proposed programs and projects funded by the grants must meet certain requirements before they can get funding. For example, the funds have to go toward projects that “increase students’ technology skills and knowledge” and lead to industry certifications, and provide alternative pathways for students to meet high-school graduation requirements. The grants also can go to programs that encourage students with aptitude in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, to attend a state college or university in the region.

Susan Skelton, Triumph Gulf Coast’s administrator, told The News Service of Florida that the organization has “committed to supporting a complete pipeline of workforce education, beginning with elementary schools through university-level training.”

A News Service review of some of the big-ticket items funded at least partially by the grants explores the initiatives that have been funded at all levels of education.

Funding going to school districts in the area has totaled tens of millions of dollars.

In 2021, the Triumph Gulf Coast Board of Directors approved $20 million for the Wakulla County School District’s War Eagle Career Academy. The project built on existing training programs offered by the district, giving students the ability to get training in fields such as information technology, artificial intelligence and computer cloud computation.

Last year, the Santa Rosa County school district was awarded $9 million to go toward the Santa Rosa Center for Innovation. The center was billed as giving students the opportunity to engage in “project-based activities” that are geared toward obtaining industry certifications in areas such as robotics, engineering, healthcare, agriculture and automotive trades.

Warrington Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Escambia County, was awarded $7.45 million last year to train students for careers in what the school called in its grant application the “top three industry cluster areas of the county” — defense and homeland security, life sciences and professional services.

The Wakulla school district also in 2017 received $3.926 million from the Triumph board for a Career and Technical Education Center that was geared toward giving students the potential to earn certifications in automotive-related skills as well as heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, fields.

Money distributed by the Triumph board comes from a settlement with BP oil company over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The Triumph Board is required to distribute the money with the goal of “recovery, diversification, and enhancement” of the eight impacted Panhandle counties.

In addition to being designed to bolster the local workforce, applications for some of the various career education programs expressed goals of also increasing household incomes for area residents.

Of the Triumph Gulf Coast money steered to higher-education institutions, Florida State University has received the largest-ever grant. The Triumph Gulf Coast board earlier this month approved $98.5 million for FSU to construct aerospace and advanced manufacturing facilities in Panama City.

“One focus Triumph is working towards is building a strong workforce pipeline in aviation related industries,” Skelton said in a statement. “Several nursing programs funded by Triumph support training at all levels from high school through post secondary.”

The University of West Florida in Escambia County received a $6.685 million grant related to nursing and respiratory therapy education in 2022. The university wrote in its application for the funds that the “number of job postings is far exceeding the number of educational completions in the region for these occupations.”

Northwest Florida State College was the beneficiary of a nearly $21.8 million grant from Triumph aimed at expanding its nursing program. The grant money comprised only a portion of the funds required to fully finance the project, which also included state funds aimed at bolstering nursing education as demand for the profession increases alongside population growth.

“Combined, these funding sources are paying for a renovation project, new equipment, and the development of cutting edge virtual and augmented reality simulations that will result in more immersive learning spaces for twice as many nursing students than the College can currently train,” the college said in a statement to the News Service.

The college also received $2.856 million for a Walton Works Training Center of Excellence, which provides training in a range of fields from carpentry to cybersecurity, and more than $7 million for an Aviation Center of Excellence.

“Graduates of these programs contribute to the local talent pool by filling positions in commercial airlines, private aviation companies, aircraft maintenance facilities, and related industries,” the college said of the aviation center.


%d bloggers like this: