News

Area Colleges, Universities are Meeting Workforce Business Needs

There are many reasons businesses consider Northeast Florida for a headquarters, facility or expansion.

There’s the business-friendly tax environment and municipal government, the port, logistics infrastructure, commercial real estate opportunities, the climate and the quality of life.

Another of the region’s business development assets is its workforce.

“‘What’s the talent like?’ is one of the first questions a company asks when considering Jacksonville,” said JAXUSA Partnership Vice President of Talent Development Anna Lebesch.

The chamber’s business development division created the position this year to connect residents to career opportunities and attract skilled workers to the region.

“We work with the colleges and universities to make sure we build the talent pipeline we need to support the businesses we have and bring new business to the area,” she said.

Lebesch works with local institutions of higher education — Edward Waters College, Florida State College at Jacksonville,  Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida —  to help coordinate curriculums to match the demand for qualified potential employees.

“Our colleges and universities understand our target industries and their needs to make sure we’re producing the individuals they need,” Lebesch said.

FSCJ: Moving at the speed of business

With about 50,000 full- and part-time students enrolled in 13 bachelor’s degree programs, 45 associate degree programs and more than 100 technical certificate and workforce certification courses of study, FSCJ is the area’s largest provider of career and employment education.

John Avendano was appointed the college’s sixth president in April and began working as its top administrator in July.

“We reflect what the community needs. My first six months are going to be spent meeting the movers and shakers, the CEOs of business and industry, to determine what FSCJ can do to help their companies thrive and flourish,” Avendano said.

The curriculum is designed to serve three types of students.

“Our strength areas are recent high school graduates who want to get an education to get into the workforce; customized workforce training for companies that want to invest in their people to elevate the level of education and training; and if something goes south for a company and people need to be retrained to get back in the workforce, we’re here for them, too,” Avendano said.

The challenge for FSCJ, he said, is to keep pace with evolving technology and how that will affect the employment needs of local companies.

“Our board of trustees wants to make sure we move at the speed of business, not the speed of academia. We’ll create a proactive culture to be ahead of the curve,” Avendano said.

JU: Significant investments and cultivating expertise

Jacksonville University has about 4,000 students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree workforce programs in subjects including aviation, business and finance, engineering, nursing and communications.

The university works with local businesses to provide a curriculum of more than 100 majors and minors that reflects their needs for qualified employees.

“Jacksonville University has made significant investments in several academic programs that align with the demands of our regional workforce, particularly in health care,” said JU President Tim Cost.

“Northeast Florida has become one of the most vibrant health care hubs in the world and Jacksonville University made the decision several years ago to partner with some of the region’s biggest health care providers, organizations such as Brooks Rehabilitation, Florida Blue, Mayo Clinic and Baptist Health,” he said. “We met with them, asked about their needs and how we could help.”

Cost cites the university’s Davis College of Business as a recognized resource for local companies that need to, what he calls, “cultivate expertise.”

“Our Master of Business Administration offered at JU’s Davis College of Business was recently named one of the top MBA programs in the world by CEO Magazine, thanks in large part to the prolific real-world experience of our faculty. That’s why many of the Fortune 500s based in Jacksonville send their best talent here to further their education and their careers,” Cost said.

UNF: ‘Florida’s Jobs University’

The University of North Florida offers more than 50 undergraduate degree programs, five graduate programs and five doctoral programs in areas including business, nursing, nutrition, transportation and logistics.

The school’s 17,000 students have an excellent chance of finding a job in the state after they graduate, said UNF President David Szymanski.

“We like to refer to UNF as ‘Florida’s Jobs University.’ UNF ranks No. 1 among schools in Florida’s State University System in the percentage of bachelor’s graduates being employed in the state,” Szymanski said.

“We also rank among the top three state universities in awarding bachelor’s degrees in Florida’s areas of strategic emphasis,” he said. “More than half of our degrees address these key areas that include STEM, health, education and global disciplines.”

While the university is focused on meeting the business community’s needs, the business community offers an exceptional education experience for students, Szymanski said.

“Being in Jacksonville provides phenomenal opportunities for internships. By the time they graduate, UNF students already have tremendous experience in their fields,” he said.

UNF students who remain in the region are contributing to the growth of the local economy, based on data collected from graduates.

“The starting salary for nursing graduates is above $57,000, and graduates from all programs in the College of Computing, Engineering and Construction who are working in Florida have average starting salaries above $50,000,” Szymanski said.

EWC: Economic and educational impact

Established in 1866, Edward Waters College is the oldest independent higher education institution in Florida and the state’s first college founded for the education of African Americans.

College President A. Zachary Faison Jr. says EWC’s economic impact includes alumni workforce earnings, job creation and economic stimulation, particularly in the neighborhood near Downtown where the campus is located, based on data published in 2017 by the United Negro College Fund.

“As an institution of higher education, it is the desire of the institution to produce qualified and skilled graduates that will enter the workforce,” Faison said.

“According to a UNCF study, the total lifetime earnings for graduates of Edward Waters College as of 2014 was $269 million. This equates to more than 77% higher earning outcomes than if these students had not attended Edward Waters College,” he said.

The college has nearly 1,000 students enrolled in eight undergraduate programs and represents nearly 500 jobs on and off campus, Faison said.

“The impact of job creation by the institution to the community it serves, in particular, the Kings Road Corridor, is instrumental to not only those who live in the local neighborhood, but in the creation of diversity and opportunities through the transplanting of people through campus employment,” he said.

“This diverse body of people, be it social, political, or economic, begins to create a transformative experience for not only the students, but the community by virtue of recognizing difference within a significantly homogenous population,” Faison said.

Faison also cites the career success of graduates.

“An Edward Waters College graduate can anticipate additional earnings of $1.1 million in incremental income based upon a degree that would not otherwise be true without the degree,” he said.

By Max Marbut, Jacksonville Daily Record, Aug. 30, 2019