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Community Voices: Alternate paths to a good career

Aakash Patel



Hillsborough Community College's apprentice program links students to apprenticeship opportunities. Pictured is the Brandon campus. Photo provided.

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It may sound too good to be true, but it’s one of the best-kept secrets in education: You can learn the skills for a rewarding career and get paid at the same time.

From Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office in Tallahassee to Hillsborough Community College, Florida is investing in robust apprenticeship programs where students can learn the skills to be in high demand for well-paying jobs that will help fuel Florida’s 21st century economy. It’s a path to satisfying work that does not require a four-year college degree or shouldering a mountain of student debt that could take decades to pay off.

To be clear, it’s a myth that a four-year college degree is the only path to a good career. At HCC, students can earn two-year degrees and one-year certifications that prepare them well to join the workforce – and apprenticeships coordinated through the college enable students to be even more marketable. Apprenticeships are a proven solution for businesses to recruit, train and retain highly-skilled workers. And for students, they can earn wages while learning skills that will lead them toward long-term careers.

Working with several organizations including Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Florida Gulf Coast Chapter and Independent Electrical Contractors West Central Florida West Coast Chapter, United Association Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union No. 123 (LU 123,) and United Association Sprinkler Fitters Local Union No. 821 (LU 821), HCC’s apprentice program links students to apprenticeship opportunities. The apprentice works full-time during the day for a sponsoring employer to learn the skills of the trade and complete classroom-related instruction in the evening or on the weekends. It’s an “earn and learn’’ model in which apprentices are paid an hourly wage by the employer and can receive incremental wage increases as they become more skilled on the job.

The reward at the end of the training program: A nationally recognized Completion of Apprenticeship certificate by the State of Florida – a winning ticket to full-time employment and a rewarding career.

For example, the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. offers apprenticeships. Many construction workers have some college education and are viewed as skilled craft professionals. Construction industry workers are aging, and the industry needs hundreds of thousands of trained men and women every year just to meet the replacement needs.

At HCC’s Dale Mabry Campus, eight different apprentice tracks with the builders and contractors are offered, including those for carpenters, plumbers and electricians. The median salary in those skilled trades is more than $55,000. An added bonus: Graduate apprentices at Hillsborough Community College receive 27 college credit hours – almost half of the required 60 credit hours toward an AS degree.

In Florida, our apprentice programs need to keep growing. Among the five largest states by population, we rank last in the number of active apprentices, active programs and new programs being started. But we have been steadily adding active apprentices in recent years, and we need to keep building on that success.

With such a successful record, apprenticeships should be among the most visible educational programs in the business community. With over 700 students enrolled and having received over $2 million in grant funding, HCC is proud of our apprenticeship programs and eager to spread the word that students who seek apprenticeships are choosing a path to rewarding, well-paid careers – without taking on debt that could limit the choices they make later in life.

Aakash Patel is a member of the Hillsborough Community College Board of Trustees and serves on the board of directors of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County. He is the founder and president of Elevate Inc., a Florida-based strategic business consulting firm providing public relations, community relations, targeted networking and social media.


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