$10.5 million grant to help expand apprenticeships in Tampa Bay area

Some new options are coming for Tampa Bay workers looking to change careers or grow their skill set with the help of $10.5 million in grant money from the state of Florida.

Governor Ron DeSantis recently announced the funds going to 11 schools through the Expansion of Registered Apprenticeship and Preapprenticeship (ERAP) Grant. Hillsborough Community College, Pasco-Hernando State College, Hernando County Schools, and Pinellas Technical College are the educational institutions receiving money in the Tampa Bay area. The money will go toward expanding or starting apprenticeships across the state and help fill a tremendous need across trades.

"Right now at HCC, we currently have 502 students enrolled in our different apprenticeship programs, and we're hoping to add at least another 150 new apprentices with these grant funds," said John Meeks, the associate vice president of post-secondary, adult vocational and apprenticeship programs at HCC. "We've actually seen a decline in overall enrollment since the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, we had 702 students enrolled in the programs."

A lot of construction sites were force to close in 2020, and Meeks said the industry is still recovering from that.

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"Some of those employees left the industry, and they haven't come back. And so we're actually trying to replace what we really had and hope maybe to even build upon that as well," Meeks said, adding that the grant will help expand HCC apprenticeships in eight different jobs. 

That includes electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, fire sprinkler protection installers, pipefitters, and roofers. Hillsborough Community College was awarded $1,575,000 from the grant.

Pinellas Technical College explained Monday how the grant money of $276,220 it received will help create a new program. Clearwater Campus director Jake Prokop said they will teach mechanics how to work with electronics on new cars and on electric cars.

"In the automotive industry, many technicians stall in the growth of technical ability because of the electronics and electricity portion. It's the most difficult part of the vehicle for people to comprehend," said Prokop. "We came up with this idea of this one-year automotive electronics electricity grant, which we're very excited to implement. So we can help a lot of technicians out there."

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Prokop said there is no apprenticeship like it in the area, so he said it will be a good fit for local, independent car shops that often may not have the resources to train workers on the latest automotive electronics. 

"Because electric vehicles, while they have an electric power plant, they still have lights, power seats, you know, all those kinds of things that we enjoy. We're teaching the whole car, whole technical system, not just the power plant part," said Prokop.

Hernando County Schools said it did not have an apprenticeship program, so it will use $1,173,900 awarded to partner with Associated Builders and Contractors Florida Gulf Coast Chapter to train adult apprentices. Sophia Watson, director of adult and technical education at Hernando County Schools, said the district will offer eight different construction-based apprenticeships, including jobs in electrical, plumbing sheet metal, carpentry, and craft labor. Pasco-Hernando State College was awarded $956,346 from the grant.