Osceola County and Valencia College have partnered to train local residents in an effort to curb the county’s rampant unemployment.
As the tourism industry has collapsed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of residents have been laid off, furloughed or have had their work hours cut.
According to the latest figures from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Osceola County has the highest unemployment rate in the state at 13.3 percent, almost double the state average.
Florida has lost about 450,000 jobs since the onset of the pandemic, according to the DEO figures.
However, high rates of pandemic-driven job losses are now projected to translate into extra weeks of unemployment benefits for Floridians next year. The Florida Legislature sets the benefit rate which currently is $275 a week, among the lowest in the nation.
More than $1 billion in CARES Act funding has poured into Florida to allay the devastating effects of the pandemic, including millions for the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
Osceola County has pledged about $900,000 from its share of the relief funds for the new training programs at Valencia. They include medical assisting, electronic board assembly, commercial truck driving and distribution operations for some 340 students.
Valencia’s Accelerated Skills Training programs “have proven they provide accelerated pathways to high wage employment in desirable industries that are just what so many of our residents impacted by COVID-19 need right now,” said Osceola County Commission Chairwoman Viviana Janer.
Take local resident Cynthia Burgos, for example. She had been working full-time in the airline industry until her hours were reduced.
Now she is a full-time student in an 18-week course in clinical medical assisting.
“The program funding will help me reach the educational goals that I was unable to reach in the past, due to my inability to attend and pay for school full time. I am now in a situation where I need new skills and I can attend school full-time and finally reach a dream that seemed out of reach for many years,” Burgos said.
The college’s Center for Accelerated Training at the Osceola campus for years has been focused on short-but-intensive programs that provide students with jobs that pay at least $15 an hour. They include hands-on learning in environments that simulate the workplace and they have industry certifications built into the curriculum. Most of the programs take about six months to complete and cost between $3,000 and $7,000.
Said Carolyn McMorran, Valencia College’s Assistant Vice President of Professional Continuing Education: “Valencia College’s Accelerated Skills Training programs have enjoyed a long history of support from Osceola County and this is just one more example. What is so powerful about our partnership is the alignment in helping to make the residents of Osceola County lives better.”
For more information on Valencia College’s Accelerated Skills Training programs and how to apply for an Osceola Cares grant, visit ValenciaCollege.edu/AST.