Link between higher education, employers is key to economic future

November 11, 2013 

Vladimir Carareski loves his job. The recent finance graduate from the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee is traveling the world as a tour business manager for Ellenton-based Feld Entertainment. This exciting career path opened to Carareski through an internship that his university arranged with the global entertainment production company.

Carareski's experience is one example of how the Bradenton area's economic future is closely linked with how successfully the community's institutions of higher learning relate their programs to the needs of local businesses.

Businesses looking to relocate or expand in our community are heavily focused on workforce quality and options for workforce training. The Bradenton area is not perceived as a "college town," so we need to work harder to demonstrate that we not only have excellent institutions of higher learning, but they are also tuned in to employers and are delivering the talent and relevant skills that businesses need.

Through collaboration with Suncoast Workforce, regional economic development partners, educational institutions and employers, positive workforce training stories are emerging throughout the community. To show just a few examples, we talked recently with employers benefiting from programs through USFSM; State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota; and Manatee Technical Institute.

At Feld Entertainment, where Carareski interned and then moved into a full-time position, USFSM's internship program earned high praise from company executive Casey Rodgers.

"I was very impressed with the level of coordination, attention to our needs and the caliber of the students," Rodgers said. "Having worked in New York and D.C. and experiencing numerous candidates there, I can honestly say the level of your (USFSM) students' abilities and professionalism are on par with the best I have seen in those major metro areas."

The Career Services department at USFSM offers many internship and job-related services, including an online resume search

and job posting resource. It is free of charge to students, alumni and employers.

In addition to interns who can segue into full-time positions, employers are looking for opportunities to enhance the skills of employees. A prime example in the field of manufacturing is a national certification program offered by SCF.

The Certified Production Technician course provides an understanding of the interdependence of manufacturing functions and a well-rounded mastery of competencies for each technical area. In addition to earning the nationally recognized credential, successful students earn credits toward an associate or bachelor's technology degree at SCF.

Several local businesses have used the program. Sun Hydraulics recommends the course for all its employees; not just those working in technical jobs. In fact, some 200 employees at Sun Hydraulics have completed the course; 75 through the SCF program.

Eaton's Bradenton area facility also benefited from the Certified Product Technician offering. During the company's strategic planning, managers decided they would need more testers and technicians. Through Suncoast Workforce, Eaton learned about the CPT course. All 14 employees that completed SCF's program were promoted.

Another prime example of the linkage between workforce training providers and successful economic development is Air Products' relationship with MTI. The company's plan to potentially hire hundreds of employees over four years for a new Bradenton area facility hinges on training workers in advanced welding techniques.

To meet Air Products' requirements, MTI created a company-specific welding curriculum. MTI helps the company assess the skills of job candidates, and once candidates are hired, they go through MTI's customized training program so they will be ready when Air Products begins operations.

Building a reputation for powerful partnerships between educators and employers is a key to our economic future. Kudos to the institutions and businesses that are making that vision a reality in the Bradenton area.

Sharon Hillstrom, president and chief executive officer of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., may be contacted at info@thinkbradentonarea.com or 748-4842, ext. 128.

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