Bank of America awarded St. Petersburg College (SPC) $1 million to help students from underserved backgrounds receive job placement services and achieve their career goals while strengthening the region’s workforce pipeline.
SPC announced the $1 million grant to provide job placement services for students in high-wage, in-demand careers at an event at the college’s EpiCenter Tuesday. Targeted sectors include information technology, business, finance and professional services. SPC projects the program to serve a minimum of 500 students, focusing on students of color and those with financial hardships.
The grant is part of Bank of America’s (BOA) $1.25 billion, five-year commitment to advancing racial equality and economic opportunity. Dr. Tonjua Williams, president of SPC, said the college is specifically looking for students who are not typically aware of job opportunities in the financial services and professional development industries to enlist in the program.
“I think it’s going to be a major game-changer,” said Williams. “We’ve been focusing on creating an ecosystem for education and workforce, and there’s been a gap of communication and knowledge between what the workforce needs are and how education can prepare the workers for their needs.”
Bill Goede, president of Bank of America Tampa Bay, said the company increased its monetary commitment to reducing the racial wealth gap from $1 billion to $1.25 billion last year to fund partnerships like this with SPC. He said BOA’s goal is to shorten the timeline between education and employment by building a bridge between recruiters and human resource departments and colleges.
Williams said bringing all parties together to strategize on what jobs and skills are most needed would boost economic mobility, especially for those in underserved communities. She noted that placing these students in high-wage careers not only positively affects them and their immediate families but will also have a generational impact.
“If we really want to make Florida the number one workforce state, every culture, group and individual needs to have an opportunity to a high-wage paying job,” said Williams. “That’s what this is all about.”
Goede said not only does this program help develop a talent pipeline for BOA and other corporations, but it also lets young adults see a pathway to careers and industries they previously thought were unattainable.
“Why can’t you come work for Bank of America,” asked Goede rhetorically. “Let us show you how to do that.”
The centralized alignment office that serves as the primary source of information and translation between the college and businesses is established and ready. Goede said the focus is now on creating an open dialogue and discussion with the Tampa Bay business community, and he would do his best to help facilitate those connections. While there is a need at BOA for skilled employees, he noted the need exists across an ever-growing region.
“People are coming to Tampa Bay, and there is a gap in terms of what is available,” said Goede. “I think the skills are out there, and the talent is out there; this is just connecting the talent with open roles.”
Williams said SPC is talking with large and small companies in the area and partnering with organizations like the Pinellas County Economic Development Council to make the business community aware of the new program.
Williams is preparing a list of students and potential applicants along with their skillsets and credentials to find the best match with an in-demand workforce opportunity. Williams said the ultimate goal is placing every student at SPC in a job.
Goede said the idea for the program originated early last year when he and Williams took part in a panel and began conversations on how to narrow the racial wage gap. Those conversations morphed into a collaborative partnership between the financial institution and college, which led to the million-dollar grant to fund the program.
Williams said she strives to put her students into rewarding careers, and the challenge for her is knowing where the jobs are and where they are going. She explained that someone in Goede’s position knows what jobs and skill sets are needed – both today and in the coming years. This new program now allows the college to offer programs based on the needs of the business community and target industries.
Williams said the college instituted similar programs on a smaller scale when BayCare announced a need for surgical technicians, and Duke Energy requested more linemen.
“Instead of us blindly offering programs that in 2025 will not even be relevant, we want to make sure we’re fueling the workforce the way we should,” said Williams. “What Bill (Goede) and his team have put together allows us to be at the table to know what’s coming forward.”
Williams said she was once a prime example of someone who would be eligible for the program. She explained that she grew up in poverty, and if not for someone “standing in the gap” on her behalf, she would not be a college president today.
“Well, this program helps us stand in that gap,” she said. “Make sure that individuals who have been told they’d never be anything or couldn’t be what they wanted, not only tell them they can but show them the way … ”