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Front Page » Top Stories » Educators Map Out Programs That Meet Business Workforce Needs

Educators Map Out Programs That Meet Business Workforce Needs

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Written by on September 14, 2000

With Greater Miami’s business community battling a shortage of workers trained in new high-tech occupations, economic development leaders last week turned their focus squarely to a newly forged partnership with education.

Citing concern that the new wave of business will bypass the community unless it has the proper workforce mix, Miami-Dade County’s economic development organization, the Beacon Council, Friday brought together seven high-level educators to talk about schools working with industry for workforce development.

Representatives for businesses considering relocating here said "We have to move to where our workforce is and find the workforce with the skills that we need," Council President Frank Nero told the audience. "Do we have the workforce to fill the needs of Miami-Dade and all of South Florida to fill the opportunities that are available?"

Concern for workforce development was born a few years ago when the One Community One Goal job-creation effort spearheaded by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce turned up concerns in all eight of its targeted industries that enough skilled high-level workers wouldn’t be available to take advantage of growth opportunities.

That concern was evident both in the Beacon Council session and last Wednesday when developer Leonard Miller of Lennar Corp. addressed the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce trustees on the Annenberg Challenge, an effort to make public education more effective. Both referred to the One Community findings as a call to action.

Wasim Shomar, director of the School of Design & Technology at Miami-Dade Community College, told the Beacon Council breakfast at the Biltmore Hotel that part of the worker gap may be illusory.

"When I was at IBM five years ago, I had to find engineers and technicians" and noted a great scarcity, he said. "On the educational side, our fear is, can we place the students we are training? Clearly, there is a disconnect."

But much of the gap is real, Mr. Shomar said, and his college is stepping up to meet the challenge in an innovative way — a complete reorganization to meet the needs of business.

"It’s a very brave step to take the largest community college in the nation" with 128,000 students "and the No. 1 community college in the nation in quality and revamp it so that it is responsive to the business community."

Yet, he said, that’s what M-DCC has done in direct response to the One Community One Goal study, splitting off much of the college into individual schools that track the specific key development areas outlined in the One Community study, including new schools that focus on film and entertainment, education, aviation and the visitor industry.

"We restructured our entire management team so that we can be responsive" to the needs of business, Mr. Shomar said, creating 32 new programs ranging from very short-term training up to an associate’s degree program.

The college, he said, has gone after, and gotten, $30 million from the state to establish programs solely based on the One Community One Goal recommendations.

Educators’ recognition of the needs of the business community seems broad and deep.

"The e in e-commerce development stands for education," said Roger Cuevas, superintendent of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. He said the school district has developed major partnerships with corporations that include Honda, Toyota, Maytag, Oracle and Cisco to develop training programs specifically meeting their needs and geared to their products — and the schools seek similar partnerships throughout the business community.

"We need your input in the process of developing the curriculum and in buying the hardware," Mr. Cuevas said.

Monsignor Franklyn Casale, president of St. Thomas University, said the Institute for Workforce Enhancement at his school has developed more than seven programs in its two short years. They are geared, he said, for the adult worker who has neither the time nor money to attend college.

Barry University this year began both bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in e-commerce, said Jack Scarborough, dean of the business school.

"Our move to cope with this tremendous change in the demands of the workforce is to move into technology," he said.

Reinforcing the theme of a business-education partnership, Mr. Scarborough said that Barry has worked with both the Internet Coast and the Miami Internet Alliance in setting up its e-commerce programs.

"There is a need for partnerships between industry and schools," he said. "It is absolutely essential."

Johnson & Wales University meets that need with tailor-made programs for business, said Donald McGregor, president of the Florida campus of the Rhode Island-based institution. "We try to develop programs that the industry wants locally."

About half the students at the Johnson & Wales campus in Miami-Dade come from outside the region, he said, for training focused on the hospitality industry. His aim, he said, is to keep as many as possible of those trained students in the community after graduation.

Even the University of Miami has special programs for industry — programs not found in the university catalog. They come out of the School of Continuing Studies, which creates specialized programs that train 25,000 students a year, said Carol Holden, dean of that school.

The programs at her school, she said, are geared to meet needs springing from the "seismic social shift going on in America and here in South Florida," where the preponderance of the workforce has risen in just a few years from 18- to 34-year-olds to 34- to 64-year-olds.

Her school, she said, designs programs for individual corporations to meet the technological needs of that changing workforce.

"We’re a specialized program, kind of high niche," Dr. Holden said.

"We can’t be all things to all people," said Modesto Maidique, president of Florida International University. "We are in the process of focusing on three areas that are going to guide us for the next 10 years and beyond."

Those areas, he said, deal with preserving the environment, biomedical and biotechnology, and telecommunications.

A planned $10 million FIU technology institute that will be home to the nation’s top computer scientists, Mr. Maidique said, today awaits approval from the Florida Board of Regents, which governs the state’s public universities.

Affirmations of the new partnership between education and business were echoed and re-echoed.

"I think," M-DCC’s Mr. Shomar said, "educators have stepped off of their ivory tower a little bit and are listening to the business community."

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