Workforce of Tomorrow

Gainesville middle school is second in FloridaWorks region to start IT Career Academy

Teachers became the students at the Santa Fe Center for Innovation and Economic Development (CIED) for an April workshop training. As part of an initiative to develop Middle School IT Career Academies across the state of Florida, teachers and administrators from 10 Florida middle schools traveled to Gainesville for Phase II of Workforce Florida, Inc.’s Middle School CAPE IT Career Academy Technical Assistance Project.

FloridaWorks and Santa Fe College hosted the Phase II Project Workshop. The project brings Microsoft and Adobe training to middle schools, where students can earn industry-recognized certifications. It is a collaboration between schools and Workforce Florida, Inc., the statewide business-led workforce policy board, with technical assistance provided by The Whetstone Group (TWG), a talent development company with locations in Florida and Georgia.


With the innovative and revolutionary partnership of regional workforce boards, like FloridaWorks, and local education leaders, the project promotes a dynamic talent supply system that provides hands-on learning for students that can be applied to the workforce system.

From left to right: CareerSource NCFL Executive Director Kim Tesch-Vaught, CareerSource Florida Program Manager Dehryl McCall, TWG President Melissa Bumpers, and TWG Principal and Project Instructor Jeff Scroggins.

FloridaWorks and the Santa Fe College hosted the training for Phase II of Workforce Florida, Inc.’s Middle School Career IT Academy Technical Assistance Program in April. Technical assistance is provided by The Whetstone Group (TWG).  

From left to right: FloridaWorks Executive Director Kim Tesch-Vaught, Workforce Florida, Inc. Program Manager Dehryl McCall, TWG President Melissa Bumpers, and TWG Principal and Project Instructor Jeff Scroggins.

Bradford Middle School, located in Starke, was one of 15 Middle School IT Career Academies established in Phase I of the project, providing training for 21 students. According to IT Academy teacher Sulina Mackey, more than 80% of those students earned certifications. Testing is still open, but students who sat for the exams have a 100% pass rate.

Of the 10 schools selected for Phase II, one of them is Alachua County’s Howard W. Bishop Middle School, located in Gainesville. Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) considered applying for the Phase I grant, but chose not to due to lack of staff and funding. All of the pieces came together for the Phase II project, said Dr. David Edwards, director of Career and Technical Education (CTE) for ACPS. Because Howard Bishop is a technology magnet school, this provides access to more ACPS students than a non-magnet school.

What makes the program unique is the ability for students to pace themselves, said TWG President Melissa Bumpers. This allows students to take the certification exams when they are ready without holding students back or moving students ahead prematurely.

“What we really want to do is try to have a couple of tracks,” said Edwards, emphasizing the importance of the classes being offered to students of all learning stages at Howard Bishop. “[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”] [fusion_builder_row] [fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”] [These certifications are] a piece of foundation that almost everyone needs.”

According to Workforce Florida, Inc., Program Services Manager Dehryl McCall, WFI’s main focus is ensuring Florida is developing talent that Florida employers need. This project is a huge step in producing that talent.

“There are 16,000 jobs currently listed in Florida that need Microsoft or Adobe proficiency, but more importantly those are foundational, core, basic skills that transcend any industry sector,” said Jeff Scroggins, TWG principal and project instructor. “It’s an acknowledgement that IT is a basic necessity in any sector and most every occupation.”

Each school is able to develop a specific plan for their students based on their own resources, whether they want to teach Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Suite or both. CTE Teacher Specialist Nancy Iafrate and Edwards have met with Gainesville businesses to determine skills needed locally. Regional workforce boards are also available to provide resources or direction for schools that need additional assistance and localized labor market information.

“All of our business owners, our leaders, our IT community, are really excited,” McCall said about the impact of the project on tomorrow’s workforce. “It’s all about building a talent supply system … aligning our resources and developing these career paths.”

Alachua County Public Schools have a history of providing workforce education to primary school students. Project participants must feed into a high school Career Academy, designated by the Career and Professional Education Act (CAPE). Alachua County currently has 11 high school Career Academies, six of which are CAPE Academies. 

The Academy of Health Professions at Gainesville High School is a model program, Iafrate said.  High school students are earning CNA, EKG, EMT and other health industry certifications. In addition to health occupation opportunities, Gainesville is a thriving entrepreneurial community with a large IT population.  Popular Science Magazine named Gainesville the Top Tech City in Florida.

But earning these certifications isn’t simply about creating an IT workforce of tomorrow. Students enrolled in the program will develop digital literacy skills that are a basic necessity for nearly all jobs.

Phase I schools earned more than 800 certifications in the first nine months of the program. Howard Bishop expects to complete its first certifications in November. For updated results and more information, visit

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