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Mayor’s Academy prioritizes youth, workforce development

Mark Parker



From left: Demarco Miller, Kendrick Hills, Jiquell Richardson, Johnathon Morgan, Solomon Henry, Carl Collins, Evan Aikens and Latania Barnes, program coordinator of the Mayor's Future Ready Academy, at Wednesday evening's City Hall on Tour Event. Photos by Mark Parker.

The first of three scheduled 2024 City Hall on Tour stops represented a homecoming of sorts for Mayor Ken Welch.

He said his father, the late Dr. David T. Welch, helped build Pinellas Technical College, and he grew up in the building while his father worked in an upstairs office. The elder Welch, a three-time city councilman, had written his college thesis on how vocational education could end poverty and mitigate recidivism.

“So, I’m a true believer in career education,” Mayor Welch told the Catalyst. “There’s such a need to connect – particularly young people, but also folks going through a career change – with these opportunities.”

Educational institutions will host Mayor Ken Welch’s City Hall on Tour events in 2024.

Dozens of students showcased new skills learned at Pinellas Technical College (PTC). The expansive campus at 901 34th St. S. provides accessible automotive, welding, commercial driving, culinary and public works career programs.

The latter aspect encompasses the recently launched Mayor’s Future Ready Academy. The program connects young adults aged 18 to 24 with employment opportunities with the city and other organizations.

Welch said those “good-paying” careers would help fill a “real need” for the city. He also noted the Historic Gas Plant District’s $6.5 billion redevelopment will foster 30,000 jobs.

“We don’t want to outsource – that is a last option for us,” Welch added. “We want to make sure folks who are here have first access to those jobs.”

Development stakeholders have also expressed an increasing need for a skilled talent pipeline. Welch said a welding instructor noted graduates, including multiple young women, have their pick of jobs due to heavy demand.

Pinellas Technical College welding students will compete in an upcoming state competition.

He called the program a win-win as it also empowers the community. Youth gun violence is a persistent problem that Welch said requires a range of solutions.

He stressed the importance of enforcing punishments for those who harm others in the community. However, Welch said local leaders must also provide “real opportunities, even for a kid that’s messed up once or twice.”

The overarching goal is for youth to see their friends attend the 18-week academy, receive a job in public works with a livable wage and full benefits, and want to recreate that success. “That word gets around to our young people,” Welch said.

“A lot of it needs to be peer-to-peer,” he added. “Not me walking in and talking to kids who are 35, 40 years younger. But when they hear it from their peers, it makes a difference.”

Latania Barnes, program coordinator, said she has noticed participants recommending the Academy to friends and family. She believes expansion is on the horizon.

The first cohort started Jan. 22 with 12 participants. Cadets receive $16 per hour and are eligible for insurance, paid leave and rental assistance programs.

The program is a significant commitment. Participants receive four hours of on-the-job training and four hours of instruction at PTC in a 40-hour work week that begins at 7 a.m. daily.

Barnes said only one cadet has withdrawn from the Academy. “It’s the first class, so we’re still figuring it out as we’re going,” she said.

“Some minor improvements, like any other program,” Barnes added. “But I think right now, we’re doing great.”

Sen. Darryl Rouson and Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld joined hundreds of city officials and staffers at the event.

Sylester Boe Norwood, director of PTC, said the college offers 41 career programs that impact daily life. He explained how many intertwine with the 25 city departments featured at the event.

Attendees included Sen. Darryl Rouson, City Council Chair Deborah Figgs-Sanders, Tampa Bay Rays president Brian Auld and hundreds of municipal employees. Norwood pledged to enroll “anyone you know that is walking the street or not sure what they want to do. That’s our job.”

Dr. Dallas Jackson, occupational specialist at PTC, said its Public Works Academy’s graduating classes have quadrupled in size since partnering with the City of St. Petersburg. He called the municipal funding a “great return on investment.”

Jackson said the Mayor’s Academy features “some of the sharpest young people I’ve ever had the opportunity to interact with.” The second cohort begins in September, and Welch is working to increase the program’s budget and reach.

“These students that will be graduating here in just two months are going to be our beacon of light to reach other students who wait seven or eight years after high school to finally decide, ‘It’s time for me to get a career,'” Jackson said.






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1 Comment

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    Susan Eber

    March 21, 2024at3:48 pm

    Encoraging employers to invest in Registered Apprentship Programs is a great start and offered through PTEC and SPC. RAPs are well structured programs with a great ROI. They are now offered in numerous occupations. Information available thought FLDOE and USDOL Office of Apprenticeship

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