New UWF partnership prepares students for high-paying jobs

New UWF partnership prepares students for high-paying jobs

Getting students ready for high-tech, high-paying jobs is the mission of a new partnership at the University of West Florida (UWF). The university paired up with the Northwest Florida Manufacturers Council to support training for new students and for workers who already have manufacturing jobs.

In a UWF lab used by their Unmanned Systems Program, 3D printers are among the tools of the trade. Student Brian Arnold made a small-scale model of what will eventually be a big boat, using software called SolidWorks.

"We can manipulate the material," Arnold explained. "Whether you're going to use carbon fiber, fiber glass, even wood or foam, and figure out how that's going to change the buoyancy of the boat."

This isn't the future of manufacturing, it's the present and it's wide open.

Greg Britton of the Manufacturers Council said in the next four year years the industry is expected to need more than 3,000 new workers in Northwest Florida. The council was formed to make sure they have the right skills.

Britton is the past president of the council and owns a company called Integritrust Solutions. He put the council's mission simply, "Taking these young brilliant kids that know technology and computers and transition them into manufacturing that's high-tech today."

The UWF partnership will also help current manufacturing workers build their skills through a series of advanced training events.

"What we're trying to really show is the career path," Britton said. "That you can go from a trade or a certificate to an engineering degree, or cybersecurity, because as these machines get connected to the Internet, they're going to be hacked just like any other computer can be hacked."

Industry leaders say having a skilled workforce helps existing companies grow and draws new ones to the area. The university is funding the training events with state money dedicated to manufacturing. The Manufacturers Council has donated $1.5 million in equipment and supplies to Northwest Florida high schools.

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