A collaborative career development program known as the Exploratory Lab Boot Camp has been named Best Student Program of the Year by the Tampa Bay Technology Forum (TBTF).
The program, designed to generate well-rounded, highly skilled IT workers for Tampa Bay employers, is a joint venture between TechData, Valpak, Agile Thought, St. Petersburg College, University of South Florida St. Petersburg and TBTF.
The partnership and boot camp arose from a 2012 information technology skills gap analysis conducted by Pat Gehant, Director of Workforce Initiative at TBTF. That study showed that Tampa Bay area technology companies are facing a critical shortage of qualified personnel to fill open jobs. The boot camp program is creating a pipeline of skilled employees to meet the needs of local businesses.
“The exploratory lab is a way for us to formalize and structure an overlay program to what the students are learning in school and expose students to all the different types of skills necessary in the technology industry,” said Angie Beltz, Vice President for Cisco Solutions Group at Tech Data. “The other piece is to really ensure there is a good connection between these students and businesses in the Tampa Bay area that will help keep the students here and working after they graduate.”
Among the 43 graduates from two sessions held this year, 78% of them seeking a job or internship were hired as interns or for new jobs by Tech Data, Agile Thought, Raymond James, Ernst & Young, local start-up Lets Share Value, and an international company in Thailand. Some students returned to existing jobs seeking promotions and others returned to school with a new purpose.
“The ability to strengthen our programs to better meet the needs of world-class employers is fundamental to our vision of success for our students,” said SPC President Bill Law. “The Exploratory Lab Boot Camp is a great example of creative partnerships that move education out of the classroom and into the real world.”
“Angie Beltz, Pat Gehant, the Tampa Bay Technology Forum and St. Petersburg College have done an excellent job of leading the Exploratory Lab Boot Camp,” said James Connolly, director of the Workforce Institute at SPC. “By combining Industry needs with innovative educational strategies, we have been able to increase the preparedness of the student to enter the workforce.”
To be eligible for the free 70-hour program, participants must be enrolled at one of the partnering institutions: St. Petersburg College and St. Petersburg College Workforce Institute, USF, University of Tampa, Eckerd College or Stetson College of Law. Students do not have to be enrolled in an IT area of study to apply.
Work is under way to develop a sustainable business model that includes a collaboration between five to six companies to deliver the curriculum in May 2016. Tech Data also will assist in mentoring other companies to deliver the curriculum and plans to offer a third session of the boot camp in June 2016.