UNIVERSITY PARK — As the economy improves, Manatee Technical College is redoubling its efforts to attract technical and vocational students who might be tempted to go straight into the workforce.
As more jobs become available, MTC officials said they fear high school graduates will eschew training that could bring them better opportunities and more pay, so they’ve taken to The Mall at University Town Center to attract potential students.
College workers are staffing a kiosk in the mall corridor between Yankee Candle Shop and Camicissima Milano. They arrive at 11 a.m. and stay until 8 p.m. every day, answering questions and promoting more than 50 programs and certificates at MTC.
“People are surprised to see an educational institute at a mall,” said Doug Wagner, Manatee County School District director of career, technical and adult education.
When the economy improves, it’s easier for people to find jobs, which means fewer people enroll in traditional colleges and trade schools.
Enrollment for technical colleges dropped 9 percent from the 2011-12 school year to the 2013-14 academic year, according to the Florida Department of Education. For 2011-12, 122,412 students were enrolled in a Florida technical center or college. For the 2013-14 year — the most recent year available — enrollment dropped to 111,804.
Because it has been proactive, MTC is growing. In 2011-12, enrollment was 3,053. For 2013-14, it was 3,250.
To keep enrollment up with the strong upswing in the economy, MTC officials are stepping up marketing efforts, including the kiosk, fliers in local newspapers, television commercials and direct mailings to juniors and seniors in the school district.
Wagner and other officials say they hope close connections with local businesses and local marketing efforts will help keep MTC enrollment from experiencing the statewide drop.
Wagner understands it’s hard to enroll in a trade program and pay tuition when there’s a job opportunity. A worker with a certificate or degree, however, can command a higher starting salary, which will continue to reverberate financially throughout a worker’s career.
High-skilled technical jobs are in demand throughout Manatee and Sarasota counties, according to MTC research.
The Manatee County unemployment rate dropped from 5.8 percent in December 2014 to 5 percent last month.
At the same time, openings for high-tech jobs in the county are growing. Manufacturing alone added more than 700 jobs in the region. Simply Hired listed 1,636 ads for high-tech jobs within 25 miles of Bradenton last month. Of these openings, 1,592 are permanent and 1,505 are full-time. MTC prepares students with the level of education needed to fill roughly half of the advertised jobs, Wagner said.
G.G. Schmitt and Sons, a marine hardware manufacturing company with locations in Sarasota and Lancaster, Pa., has seen steady growth in the last two years. Before the economic downtown, the Sarasota location had about 100 employees, President Ron Schmitt said. At its lowest, the company had between 35 and 40. Now, employment is around 75 people.
“We really had to restaff,” he said.
When restaffing, the company looked for employees with basic knowledge and experience, although the company also does on-the-job training to fit specific needs. They do a lot of welding — and MTC has a welding program Schmitt and his staff have visited.
Schmitt didn’t have specific numbers on how many Manatee Tech hires he has made in the last two years, but he said he is impressed with MTC programs.
The trade and technical school — recently renamed Manatee Technical College from Manatee Technical Institute — offers more than 50 programs at four locations, ranging in length from three months to two years and cost from $1,200 to $6,590.
New programs have been launched to keep up with area demands, Wagner said, including an 11-month $4,900 java development and programming program; a nine-month $3,800 cloud computing and virtualization program; and a six-month $2,500 sport, recreation and entertainment marketing program.
“Our job is to meet and exceed the needs of this area,” Wagner said.
The trade and technical school’s mainstays, such as culinary arts, carpentry and plumbing, continue to attract students.
On Friday, the culinary arts brought 63-year-old Violet Parker in. She and her husband were looking for a way to kill time while her their car was in for maintenance and ended up at the Mall at UTC. Parker, a semiretired health care professional, stopped to talk to Wagner. She had seen the advertisements before, but never had the opportunity to talk to someone face to face about the school.
“I stopped because it said ‘college,’ ” Parker said. When she heard about the baking and pastry program, she broke out into a smile.
“I want that.”
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.
Violet Parker speaks with Doug Wagner of Manatee Technical College at the college kiosk at The Mall at University Town Center.GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald