By Mike Swindle, Guest columnist
Hendry County Schools Workforce Development and Career and Technical Education Programs are booming. That has not always been the case. As early as three years ago, the district was considering closing the Workforce Development Program due to declining enrollment. The Hendry County School District ultimately decided to hire me, a Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher to lead the reinvention of the Workforce Programs.
Bringing key stakeholders to the table to ensure the vision and needs of local workforce and training was a crucial step in the right direction. Local business leaders were eager to provide specific details that outlined the path workforce training needed to follow. The collaboration leads to buy-in and vested interest from the community in the success of our training programs. The conversation revealed we needed to expand our scope to provide a wider variety of training that produced certificates that were valuable to the workforce.
As a result, we added industrial mechanics, certified nursing assistants, construction technologies, security guard and forklift training to the established line-up of welding, GED and ESOL programs. The programs were very well received and we have grown our student count and reportable hours exponentially. Growing the programs also means increased revenue from the Department of Education. The increased revenue allows the sustainability of our programs as well as continued growth.
Without the support and buy-in from the stakeholders, the recovery would not have been possible. There were several businesses that donated funds and equipment to ensure success. FutureMakers Coalition partners, including the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, was a key factor. They brought much-needed funding that enabled the physical movement in the positive direction. For three consecutive years the funding has been used in strategic areas to ensure program and student success.
The financial support was key, but just as important was the regional collaboration the coalition facilitated. Being a part of a regional movement has allowed the use of data to drive decisions and pinpoint barriers that stood in the way of our residents that needed training, but was unavailable for various reasons. The collaboration also paved the way for greater opportunities for our students. We now have dual enrollment agreements in place with Ft. Myers Technical College and we are crafting another with Itech in Immokalee. These dual enrollment agreements will provide a vast array of programs that are simply not possible for a small district.
Bringing new opportunities to the students and residents of Hendry County is transforming our workforce in real time. Providing awareness of the multitude of pathways available has become a mission within itself. Once again, the FutureMakers Coalition stepped up to the plate. They have made it possible for Hendry County Schools to have a dedicated CTE counselor that provides multiple layers of contact between students and the opportunities that awaits.
Our goal is to diminish a large number of individuals between 18 and 24 years of age with no post-secondary training. We will create a clear and tangible pathway with quality local training options that lead to a “career within a year”. This very focused mission is closely aligned with the FutureMakers Coalition goal of increasing the region’s percentage of college graduates and residents with advanced certifications and credentials by 2025.
With increased partnerships, buy-in, regional collaboration and collective leadership, the mission of the FutureMakers Coalition will be successful. Hendry County’s workforce training transformation speaks for itself. We are proud to be FutureMakers!
Mike Swindle is a Commissioner at Hendry County Board of County Commissioners, Hendry County Schools Director of Workforce & Adult Education, and a FutureMaker’s Guiding Team member
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