A major way OCPS continues to change lives through education is by providing career and technical training for tens of thousands of students in Central Florida through Orange Technical College. Home to five local post- secondary campuses and dozens of programs across district schools, OTC is more vital than ever in building the area’s workforce pipelines.
During a pandemic and challenging economic conditions, OTC pivoted in 2020, working in partnership with local supporting agencies to offer grant-funded, short-term (a few weeks or more), “skills-based” training programs in some of the region’s most essential career pathways. Provided in parallel to the college’s traditional career certificate and adult education programming, these skills-based programs allow students to acquire relevant technical skills to prepare them for immediate employment with reputable employers. They also encourage students to stack credentials and build core competencies in their field of interest.
This past year also saw Dr. Michael Armbruster’s retirement after seven transformative years with the district as associate superintendent for Career and Technical Education. Armbruster’s tenure brought a newfound energy, brand (the big green career button) and resurgence to CTE, creating exciting new opportunities for students and restoring pride to those who have chosen technical education as their path to career success.
In his place is Melanie Stefanowicz, new associate superintendent for Career and Technical Education, who comes to us from the neighboring School District of Osceola County. There she worked as executive director of Secondary and Postsecondary Education and previously served as director of Adult, Alternative and Career Education at the Monroe County Public Schools district. She is passionate about workforce and talent pipeline development and works closely with her team, as well as businesses and industries, to ensure all programs are aligned to workforce needs and that students have every opportunity to graduate with the skills needed to enter high-skill, high-wage employment.
“While career and technical education initiatives, as well as adult general education, were a high priority before the pandemic, the resulting shutdown has made their importance crystal clear,” Stefanowicz said. “People need to get back to work, and to do that, they need to be provided with educational opportunities developed by the team at Orange Technical College.”
One student who is taking advantage of OTC’s offerings is Danielle Stiles. She is currently enrolled in the Enterprise Network and Server Support Technology program at the OTC – Winter Park campus, “I lost my job as a result of COVID,” said the 43 year-old. “This actually pushed me to follow my dreams, find a career I can retire from.”
For nearly 90 years, OTC has been home to a diverse array of career certificate training programs, leading directly to an industry certification in a student’s chosen field. The variety of programs offered is staggering: 3D animation; licensed practical nursing; automotive service; building construction; culinary arts; web development; medical assisting; advanced manufacturing; distribution and logistics; and more. As the largest provider of adult general education programs in Central Florida, OTC also offers classes to help thousands of foreign students learn to speak English each year in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) programs, and provides more GED training and testing than any other organization in Orlando.
“Students have the opportunity to participate in externships and work-based experiences where they get on-the-job training,” said Denise Wilkie, director of medial programming at the OTC – Winter Park campus. “Then with that training, many affiliate partners hire our students allowing them to start their career.”
OTC also engages local business partners in their program development and evolution. Each career certificate training program has a workforce advisory council in place to ensure industry standards are met in the classroom and to advise in making sure curriculum is aligned with industry specific skills, positioning graduates for immediate employment upon completion of their program.
Industry partners also are vital in building sustainable talent pipelines from OTC classrooms directly to Orlando’s workforce. Employers, now more than ever, are seeking candidates with specific skill sets to fill meaningful positions in their organizations – many of which do not require a degree. With the “skills-based hiring” model gaining traction, many of them are turning to OCPS and OTC to help build Central Florida’s skilled workforce.
“My involvement in the architectural drafting program and advisory committee at Orange Technical College gave me a better understanding of what this program is about,” said Jack Williams, senior vice president, Harvard Jolly Architecture. “I was very impressed with the instructor – his passion, knowledge and capabilities – and was also impressed by the overall training they were providing the students there.”
The college’s goal is to empower every student to pursue their hopes and dreams through career and technical education – whether that is learning to speak English, beginning a whole new career, or simply brushing up on technical skills. With the lowest tuition rates in Central Florida, and fully accepting of all financial aid, most students are able to graduate Orange Technical College programs debt-free. Most career certificate training programs take less than a year to complete, and on average, cost less than $5,000 (including all fees, books, and tuition).
OTC has worked hard to change the perception that the traditional four-year university path is the superior option when it comes to the perceived success of any particular student’s educational journey. OTC believes career and technical education is not lesser than but equal in value to a traditional college degree, dependent on that student’s taste in careers. And with the articulation agreements OTC has in place with local state colleges and partnering institutions, students can have the best of both worlds – college and career.
Looking ahead, OTC has ambitious plans for the future. The college’s VISION 2025 plan calls for a comprehensive restructuring and rebuilding plan for the school’s five technical college campuses in an effort to more strategically align campus programs with regional workforce demands by 2025. The plan is built around an “anchor-tenant” model with individual campuses representing schools of specialty in some of the region’s essential industries (construction; health care; advanced manufacturing; transportation; information technology; simulation; and distribution and logistics) as identified by workforce partners like CareerSource of Central Florida.
Throughout 2021, OTC will continue to help students like Danielle Stiles and others get back to work. This will happen by strengthening program initiatives through industry partnerships that add depth and breadth to students’ educational experiences and offering work-based learning experiences to test their competencies in real-world situations. These experiences allow OTC students to showcase their #EssentialPotential, ultimately leading to sustainable, high-skill, high- wage careers as we change their lives through education.