When students graduate from a high school in the School District of Lee County, they should be ready for either college or a career. That’s why the district is continuing to expand its career and technical academies at its 14 high schools, which focus on fields like aviation, automotive technology, culinary arts, digital and media arts, plumbing, and cybersecurity.
More than 5,000 students earned industry certifications through these programs during the 2018-19 school year. “We’re hoping this next school year that number will go up even higher,” says Gregory K. Adkins, Ed.D., superintendent of the School District of Lee County.
The district’s Dunbar High School in Fort Myers holds the distinction of being the first Microsoft-certified high school in the world, and students can earn more than 26 industry-standard IT certifications. The district is also home to two technical colleges in Fort Myers and Cape Coral offering employer-driven career education.
Part of the State University System of Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University opened in Fort Myers in 1997 and today boasts enrollment of more than 15,000 students. “All of our degrees are attuned to address the projected growth in workforce demand,” says FGCU President Mike Martin.
Suffolk Construction has hired about a dozen FGCU graduates from a variety of academic programs to work in its Estero office.
“I can’t think of anybody we’ve gotten from FGCU who has not been a great team member and very high performing very early on in their careers,” says Josh Christensen, chief operating officer for the Southeast Gulf Coast at Suffolk Construction.
FGCU is also home to a Florida Small Business Development Center that provided counseling and training to more than 1,300 business owners in 2018.
Private, nonprofit school Hodges University has a campus in Fort Myers and focuses on workforce education, offering associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree programs in subjects like nursing, health care administration, computer science, and marketing. “We make sure that every degree, every certification, everything we offer has that workforce focus at its heart,” says John D. Meyer, Hodges’ president.
Hodges has done custom training for employers in the region and also developed a Professional Effectiveness Certificate program to teach students soft skills like organization and communication, something that employers had told Hodges was missing among the local workforce.
Serving a five-county area, Florida SouthWestern State College has four regional locations, including its original campus in Fort Myers. It has an annual enrollment of more than 20,000 students. “From the classroom to the emergency room, from your IT department to your insurance agent’s office, Florida SouthWestern State College graduates are everywhere across Southwest Florida,” says Jeffery S. Allbritten, Ph.D., president of Florida SouthWestern State College. One of the school’s newest efforts is its Corporate Training Center in Bonita Springs, which helps local businesses take advantage of the FloridaFlex grant program. It’s worked with local companies like Hertz, Gartner, and Arthrex and has trained some 7,000 new hires in the area.
Web design and digital marketing firm Atilus was born in Lee County while its founders were still students at FGCU. Today, the Bonita Springs–based firm works with clients all over the United States. “We plan on continuing to acquire more clients and increase our head count,” says Harry Casimir, president and CEO of Atilus.
Formed about a decade ago, the Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership (SWFRTP) has been working to grow the tech industry sector through networking opportunities and workforce development efforts. Its annual TECHmatch event held in partnership with CareerSource Southwest Florida connects local high school and college students with area companies needing employees with tech skills.