Valencia expands job skills programs that pay grads at least $15 an hour

When Valencia College opens its new Center for Accelerated Training at the Osceola campus this January, students who invest in one of the industry-focused programs can expect to earn at least $15 an hour. Or at least close to it.

That’s about $31,000 per year –  almost double what an employee earns working full time at $8.25 an hour, Florida’s current minimum wage.

The $15-an-hour wage standard now drives Valencia’s technical skills programming in Osceola, said Joe Battista, vice president for continuing, professional and global education.

“That’s our target. That’s what we’re shooting for and that’s the direction we’ve been going the past couple years,” Battista said.

However, some graduates will likely earn less, closer to $13 an hour, such as those who graduate from construction program for an entry-level position, he said. But others, such as those in apartment service maintenance and heavy equipment operation, will likely earn between $18 and $20 an hour.  

“We want to continue raising the bar and we’re working with industries that are at least inching toward the $15 an hour mark,” Battista said.

Valencia has designed – and continues to modify as needed –  its accelerated skills programs to meet the needs of future-employee students and of the Central Florida companies that will hire them.

The accelerated, hands-on technical programs already are being offered in temporary buildings at the Osceola campus and at the Advanced Manufacturing Training Center on Shady Lane in Kissimmee, which opened three years ago. Those include highly-specialized courses, such as heavy equipment operation, transportation logistics, welding, electronic board assembly and apartment service maintenance technician.

Valencia’s new Center for Accelerated Training will house the more traditional trade skills programs while keeping the manufacturing-centered courses at the smaller Shady Lane campus. Local defense industry giant Lockheed Martin already has hired 70 graduates from the electronic board assembly program there, Battista said.

By January 2020, a second new building on the Osceola campus will open and will house expanded technology-centered programming such as mechatronics and robotics. Called the Careers in Industry and Technology building, it will also expand Valencia’s partnership with Career Source Central Florida. Valencia is providing space in the new building for the workforce agency, which offers no-cost employment and training assistance to job seekers.

Career Source is a great partner, Batista said, especially because they can help provide funding for students through U.S. Department of Labor for workforce training grants.

The cost of construction for the two new buildings at the Osceola campus is about $17.5 million, according to the college.

Valencia’s “accelerated technical skills programs” are intense but short. They emphasize hands-on learning, provide learning environments that simulate the workplace and build industry certifications into the curriculum. Most of the programs take about six months to complete and cost between $3,000 and $7,000.  

Students not bound for traditional four-year universities after high school generally had been forgotten until recent years, Batista said. And that’s led to the current workforce shortage, in Florida and throughout the U.S., of skilled trade employees with middle-class earning potential, he said.

And in Osceola County, where many residents support families on low-wage service industry jobs, Valencia’s $15-an-hour goal for graduates could go a long way in changing the local socio-economic landscape.

Osceola County government leaders and elected officials already have invested more than $100 million of public funds in BRIDG and NeoCity, a research campus and commercial technology park on U.S. Highway 192 in Kissimmee. The project’s goal is to attract high-wage high-tech employers to the county.