Filling the Gap: '90 Percent Placement'

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On a late December morning at Lorenzo Walker Technical College in Naples, the halls are alive with the bustle of students, either heading toward class or catching lunch at the cafeteria. Some are in dual-enrollment programs that accept high-schoolers while others are college age and older.

Despite their age differences, they’re
 all there to seek an education that, upon graduation, will most likely result immediately in a well-paying job.

“Our job placement rate is over 90 per- cent,” says college Administrative Director Yolanda Flores.

This is critical to our region. Workforce studies show that many jobs in Southwest Florida don’t require a college degree, but rather hands-on, technical training such as what Lorenzo Walker provides.

Among the technical school’s students is 16-year-old Kassandra Beristain, who is enrolled in an air conditioning maintenance class. When Beristain turns 18, she’ll have earned her diploma from neighboring Lorenzo Walker Technical High School where she’s also attending, an associate’s degree from the college and a certificate.

“I love it. It’s hard work that takes time and dedication,” says Beristain, who is the first woman to go through the program. “You have to have the drive to do it.”

Jahwann Arbyummi examines a car engine at Lorenzo Walker Technical College.

The college has 10 career programs that train for jobs in aviation, boat and auto repair, health care, information technology, cosmetology and several others. Students are taught with text material in traditional classrooms, but the practical instruction comes in facilities that mimic the real world.

For example, the aviation area is full of piston and jet engines to work on. There’s even a private jet that students took apart at Page Field in Fort Myers so it could be transported to the college and then reassembled—by the students. Those completing the aviation track find work quickly as mechanics at airports, including the one in Naples. Starting pay: about $55,000 annually.

There are also labs designed to look and function like actual hospital operating rooms. One has several simulator “patients,” modeled after infants, kids and adults, that can be practiced on. Because the “patients” are computer-programmed, students learn right away whether they’ve made the right or wrong diagnosis and treatment. “It’s critical thinking at its best,” says Health Science Coordinator Eileen Schoeknect.

Graduates of the 1,350-hour program come out with a practical nursing degree and are ripe candidates for a $20-an-hour job in a high-demand field, she says.

Lorenzo Walker chooses its curriculum with the help of an advisory committee comprising several local representatives who are “trying to keep up with the pace of their industries,” Flores says.

And that means welding instructor John Mazzarella stays busy. “We can’t produce students fast enough [for the workplace]."

RELATED: Behind the efforts to address the worker shortage in Southwest Florida.


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