Putnam says Florida must fix ‘talent gap’ to keep jobs
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Contending that Florida has a “talent gap” when it comes to jobs, the top Republican contender for governor wants the state’s middle and high schools to dramatically boost their vocational and technical education programs.
Tackling what is quickly becoming a top issue in the campaign, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam rolled out details of his education plan Monday at campaign stops in the Tampa area and Panama City.
Putnam says that if Florida is to continue its current job growth, it needs to better prepare students who don’t pursue a four-year degree.
“In the last number of years the culture in education and the pendulum has swung too far to solely college prep and it has come at the expense of as many as two-thirds or more of our students who are talented, smart, want to stay here, want to find good careers here, want to raise their families here in Florida,” Putnam said after touring a Panama City shipyard. “But we’ve stripped out many of the classes and many of the opportunities that would allow them to do all of those things.”
Putnam said Florida businesses need pipefitters and welders, and people pursuing those careers shouldn’t be told the pathway to success is a college education that comes with the burden of student loan debt.
He said he envisions technical training will go beyond the typical “shop” classes past generations took, such as wood working.
“What I’m talking about is not the shop that you and I have in mind. A wood lathe probably won’t be part of it. But welding, in this community, will be because there’s an outlet for it,” Putnam said. “On the Space Coast, it will be avionics and aerospace. In Fort Lauderdale, it would be marine engineering and outboard motor repair.”
Education is becoming a top issue in this year’s wide-open race for governor. Some of the Democratic candidates have pledged to increase spending for public schools and revamp charter school regulations.
Putnam’s proposal calls for expanding apprenticeship programs for students and technical education such as computer coding in high school. He also wants students to be able earn college credits for their vocational education, similar to Advanced Placement classes. And he wants businesses to have more say on what types of courses are offered.
Putnam is facing U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis for the Republican nomination to replace outgoing Gov. Rick Scott. Scott cannot run for governor again due to term limits.
Democrats running for governor include former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Orlando-area businessman Chris King.
Associated Press writer Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.