ST. PETERSBURG – Managing Officer Carl Lavender is head of the new Office of Workforce Innovation & Community Strategy (OWI). Twelve weeks into it, Lavender is gung-ho to make Pinellas Technical College (PTC) a household name and the first choice for students wanting to work right out of school.
“These programs are giving people a solid cash flow,” he said. “It is time to embrace the technical college as a workforce technical strategy.”
OWI is involved in both St. Petersburg and Clearwater campuses and 100 percent of the marketing to get their programs out to the public. So if you see an advertisement, they’re all over town, stop and take a look. You may be surprised at what certifications are being offered.
“It’s important for readers to know we’re getting the word out,” said Lavender.
His office evaluates and audits what is working and how to make the greatest impact on enrollment. From tracking students per semester to the number of people attending their events, OWI wants to know.
Student recruitment is a main responsibility of OWI. Lavender and his team are set to use every marketing tool in their arsenal to encourage prospective students, contributors to school based events and those curious about the college to talk with guidance and ultimately enroll in a program.
“We’re stampeding traffic into the campus.”
PTC is a technical college that is connected with Pinellas County Schools. With less than one percent of recent high school graduates choosing to attend PTC, Lavender was granted a full-time position to change it.
“We want to strengthen the pipeline from high school graduation into the college,” he said.
One of the ways OWI plans to do that is with solidifying bonds and building relationships with the principals of local high schools. Lavender hopes to make those connections, relying on his many years of service in the community.
Getting rid of an age-old stigma associated with vocational colleges is also a must. Lavender is confident the national talk about developing a workforce and building infrastructure across the nation will bring those who may be lost as to their future into PTC.
“So many jobs are vacant because there aren’t enough people to work in the trades,” Lavender said, citing a trend by schools and politicians to push two to four-year colleges.
With plans to strengthen the relationships with individual schools that draft and create pathways to graduating seniors to include the technical college as a viable option, Lavender hopes to improve on the less than one percent of graduates currently enrolling in certification programs.
OWI is now over scheduling events at PTC to bring out consistency and to make the most out of the roughly 5,000 people who’ve walked through their doors in the last two and a half years.
“We’re going to work to pitch the organization and the college,” said Lavender, who is planning on taking every opportunity to put literature in the hands of its visitors. “I want you to move from your seat into one of our many programs.”
Lavender admits certification through one of the PTC programs will lead to a niche job like HVAC or plumbing but touts its advantages.
“You don’t accrue the debt,” he said.
More importantly, students will learn a trade that they can make money doing if they decide to later attend a traditional university. Certification programs take about a year to complete.
“We’ll get you working.”
PTC is also planning to increase the number of short courses they offer to bring out the talents of experts in the community and give those with a bit of free time the opportunity to take advantage of learning new skills. Short course programs generally last a few hours a week, run for six weeks and are offered predominately in the evening when many are off work.
PTC is looking into providing lessons in ballroom dancing, step, culinary and various computer classes. The OWI is even open to local experts contacting them to discuss how they can teach a course.
“We can sit with you to frame out your entire program,” explained Lavender, whose office provides assistance with any questions about the recruitment process all the way through the awards ceremony.
This last component of the OWI department fulfills their mission to provide a community strategy to getting people off of their couches. PTC hopes to build up the short course program to 50 classes over the next 12 months.
Currently, there are about 12 industry driven classes in CPR, phlebotomy and auto mechanic certification just to name a few.
“I want tons of those courses,” said Lavender, who grateful to Director Boe Norwood for giving him carte blanche.
Lavender wants to emphasize that the OWI is there to guide anyone who is thinking about a change, wants more information on if PTC is right for them or even if they are in jeopardy of dropping out of a PTC program.
The OWI department puts together support services for those in need and will make sure they find a solution to whatever obstacle you may have.
“We’re growing something at the college,” said Lavender.
The OWI team consists of Kyesha Robinson, Jennifer Weaver, Chris Blackwell, Joan Browder, Dennis Johnston, Andrew Lasher, Samoun Phim, Judith Turner and Carol Smith. They are all ready to help enroll in a class and start making money.
To get in contact with OWI and speak with a recruiting officer at PTC, call the Clearwater campus at (727) 538-7167 or the St. Petersburg campus at (727) 893-2500.