Education leaders look to university-business partnerships to advance Florida’s workforce

by | Oct 25, 2023

  • Top education leaders at the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s forum emphasized aligning post-secondary education with industry needs. Valencia College collaborates with local businesses to develop courses based on industry needs. 
  • State universities have begun focusing on micro-credentials, offering ‘digital badges’ to students who demonstrate proficiency in specific industry skills.
  • Other institutions are integrating business feedback into curriculum design, emphasizing both industry-specific knowledge and professional “soft” skills.

During the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s annual forum, top education leaders emphasized aligning post-secondary programs with marketplace demands to better prepare students for their future careers.

Jay Galbraith, representing Valencia College, spoke about the role of regional engagements between higher education and businesses, highlighting initiatives where the college has worked hand-in-hand with local businesses to structure courses and programs based on current industry demands.

Anecdotally, Galbraith referenced Osceola County’s decade-long initiative to facilitate semiconductor manufacturing, which Valencia College responded to through the coordination with regional corporations and subsequent implementation of the necessary academic programs to establish a workforce pipeline.

“We are helping Osceola with their vision as they’ve recruited companies like SkyWater, and then we are now building those programs as they bring a clean room on for semiconductor production into Central Florida,” said Galbraith. “We’re doing that through products such as our robotics program. So it’s listening to your community, listening to your employers, and frankly working with the Governor’s Office and Department of Education to make sure we have the programs to offer.”

Moreover, Kristen Vance from Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) placed a focus on micro-credentials, which serve as a focused form of recognition given to individuals who have demonstrated understanding or proficiency in a specific skill or set of skills applicable to a particular industry or sector. FGCU has launched an initiative centered around credentialing, particularly pertaining to transferable skills.

“That means [companies] already know that they’ve mastered some of that professional development that they’re looking to accomplish with a new employee, but they have it before they even walk into that interview,” said Vance, in reference to the micro-credentials.

In practice, FGCU collaborates with employers to design micro-credentials in order to address industry skill gaps, and subsequently award students with ‘digital badges’ after assessment. A benefit of this program, according to Vance, is that students with certain badges are guaranteed interviews with participating employers who value the associated competencies.

“The wonderful end result of all of this work is that in every example that we have launched at FGCU, when students earn that digital badge, the employers have guaranteed them an interview,” said Vance.

DeAnna Thomas of Lake Technical College further touched on the integration of businesses into the formation of its curriculum, stating that the institution designs its programs around targeted occupations in the region, working closely with advisory committees and business partners.

This ensures, she said, that students are not only well-prepared for their future jobs but also aware of what awaits them after graduation, leading to a high completion rate. Lake Technical heavily stresses the importance of professional or “soft” skills, as these are frequently cited by industry partners as crucial for potential employees.

“I meet with business and industry partners. Several times a week, sometimes more often,” Thomas said. “And when I asked them, What are you looking for in an employee, what are you looking for in a graduate from one of our programs … It’s the professional skills … And so we focus on professional skills that helps them get the job and keep the job once they’re placed in the industry.”


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