TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Florida government, business and education leaders will gather in Orlando this week to discuss how state colleges and universities can better turn academic degrees into high-paying jobs.
Gov. Rick Scott created the invitation-only "Degrees to Jobs Summit" to put university and college presidents and trustees in talks with the business community.
"This really is a call to action," said Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Employment Opportunity. "We want them to leave with an action plan."
For instance, she said, the confab could produce tailored internship programs or closer relationships between individual schools and businesses.
"We want to make sure we close the skills gap, so when a graduate leaves the university and goes into the workforce, they are ready to hit the ground running on day one," she said.
The event will include state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Senate President Andy Gardiner and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, along with members of the state university system's Board of Governors and trustees and presidents of universities and state colleges.
It also will include businesspeople representing companies such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Florida Blue, CVS, Rayonier Advanced Materials, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, Deutsche Bank and Harris Corporation.
"The question everyone's asking is, 'How can we better align what our students are doing at the universities and colleges with what employers actually need?' " said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which is helping sponsor the event.
Wilson said the state will add 6 million residents over the next 15 years and create 2 million new jobs.
"We're actually aligning our education system so that kids, parents, schools, educators are all going to be aligned to what the needs of employers are," he said. "Keep in mind that by 2030, half the jobs that we have today are going to be gone."
But Jennifer Proffitt, president of the United Faculty of Florida, the faculty union, said there should be more to an education than jobs and salaries.
"The real mission of higher education is to develop educated, well-rounded citizens, and the leaders of tomorrow who can communicate and write effectively, who can think critically, who can be problem solvers," she said. "That's the important part of higher education."
Proffittt also said that her group, which represents more than 22,000 faculty members statewide, wasn't invited to the event, which starts with a reception Tuesday night and includes events Wednesday and Thursday.
"We have lots of ideas of how we can improve higher education," she said. "Talk to the faculty; talk to the students. Have a real conversation. That's what I was hoping this summit would be, but it doesn't seem to be that way."
Proctor, however, said some faculty members were invited to be panelists at the conference.
"We want to make sure that they understand that when a student needs a certain skill gap closed, that a lot of times the faculty are the ones doing that," she said. "So they are absolutely part of the conversation."
The News Service of Florida's Margie Menzel contributed to this report.
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