Editor: No skimpy menu at Manatee Technical Institute (Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

By Bill Church

BRADENTON – Dr. Mary Cantrell works the room from her seat in this fine establishment, complimenting the staff while exchanging pleasantries with other diners. It’s a business lunch, so she’s entertaining and educating at the same time.

But something’s amiss.

It’s her poor salad. So neglected.

Few can keep up with Dr. Cantrell, but even she sometimes struggles to keep up with running a nationally recognized program. Budgets to meet, newcomers to meet, expectations to be raised — who has time to devour salad greens?

Her melodic ability to weave a story tells you this Texan at heart has found her newest calling here, in a restaurant, located in a school building off busy State Road 70 East.

You may not have heard of Whetstone. It’s a training ground for chefs and others who aspire to open their own restaurants. Its hours are limited, and you have to call for reservations, but the wait is worth it.

After all, at Manatee Technical Institute, many of the students here know how to wait. How to wait for the right opportunity. How to wait on others.

It’s easy to miscast the students who attend Manatee Tech. Many of us remember the vocational schools of our past as last-chance places to send dopers and longhairs and troublemakers.

But that’s not how it works at Manatee Technical Institute, where students learn in 50-plus programs on modern campuses. The newest buildings are much like corporate-style headquarters, yet a closer look will show you prudent and efficient use of materials and space. The return on investment is immediate here.

Want to work on automobiles? You need to understand laws of physics in the classroom before tackling engine overhauls. The instructors have real-world experience, and they understand there are jobs to be had for motivated, talented students.

Of course, every school brags about its talented students. But at Manatee Technical Institute, they show it’s not bragging if it’s a fact. MTI students have won the most medals at the SkillsUSA National Championship for the past nine years. Confidence is high that 2013 will make it a decade of being on top.

When you ask MTI staff for a Top 5 list of what people ought to know, they overachieve. Here’s Maura C. Howl, a grants and public relations specialist, with her Top 6 list:

1. All instructors come from industry. They are typically experts in their respective fields who have a desire to give back.

2. More than 90 percent of students are adults, many of whom are seeking stable employment or a career change. Full-time students attend six hours a day, five days a week, with the same instructor.

3. MTI has the second- largest enrollment in adult career preparation in the state of Florida. Right now, 91 percent of our students leave MTI in three to 18 months with employable skills as measured by occupational completion points, which are tied to Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) codes. MTI’s placement rate for completers is 91 percent.

4. MTI is a significant driver of future growth for our region. The workforce training MTI offers makes a difference in attracting new business and industry to the area.

5. MTI’s leading-edge new campus on State Road 70 (designed by an MTI grad, by the way) matches the award-winning education that takes place at MTI. (Students have been winning the most medals in the nation in the annual workforce-focused SkillsUSA competition every year since 2004.)

6. MTI offers more than 50 career prep programs. Most can be completed in three to 18 months.

MTI played a key role recently in luring a company to Port Manatee, showing this is an institution in touch with industry.

“The Bradenton Area EDC can attest that collaboration is the key ingredient paving the way for successful, incremental job growth in Manatee County. Our organization enjoys excellent relationships with our partners in local and state government, workforce development and business leaders in our community,” says Sharon Hillstrom, the Bradenton Area EDC president and CEO.

“We are proud to showcase the new, state of the art, Manatee Technical Institute, when existing companies or relocating companies are looking for top-notch training programs.”

Award-winning restaurant. Industry recruiter. National champion.

Not your average vocational school, indeed. Now pass the dinner rolls, please.

Bill Church can be contacted at bill.church@heraldtribune.com or (941)361-4991. Follow him on Twitter @BillChurchMedia.

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