Reengineering workforce: Program funds on-the-job training opportunities

After 11 years working with MRI machines, electrical engineer Rob Ladkani now uses his skills to advance the development of unmanned aircraft. Companies like Gainesville-based drone manufacturer Altavian provide unemployed and underemployed professionals with new career opportunities through CareerSource North Central Florida’s Healthcare Biomanufacturing Occupational & Technology Training (HBOTT).

In 2011, three University of Florida graduates founded Altavian, an unmanned solutions provider that builds, services and deploys the aircraft. The company recently reached a funding agreement with the Institute for Commercialization of Public Research, enabling Altavian to develop products as a newly officially licensed technology partner of UF. What began as a three-man company, Altavian is now a 24-person operation actively hiring to accommodate its client base, which includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other public agencies. Altavian Chief Operating Officer Thomas Rambo attributes Altavian’s accelerated growth to the HBOTT program.

“The HBOTT program has allowed us to grow. We started working with CareerSource North Central Florida in 2012 and brought on some of our first employees a few months ahead of schedule because of HBOTT,” Rambo said.

Funded through an H1-B Technical Skills Training grant provided by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, HBOTT allows employers to hire, train and retain eligible employees in permanent positions by providing reimbursement for on-the-job (OJT) training costs. HBOTT provides more than $3 million of training funds for local unemployed workers in healthcare, bioscience, advanced manufacturing and information technology occupations often filled by foreign workers.

Rambo first applied for funding in 2012 when he heard about HBOTT through word-of-mouth as one of the many resources Gainesville offers. Since then Altavian has hired 75% of its current staff through the program. Rambo attributes the seamless hiring and training processes to open communication and a strong support network of co-workers who have successfully completed OJT.

The HBOTT program has allowed us to grow. We started working with CareerSource North Central Florida in 2012 and brought on some of our first employees a few months ahead of schedule because of HBOTT.

Thomas Rambo, Altavian COO

The HBOTT program is ideal for Altavian’s recruiting efforts, Rambo said, because it changes the hiring process. Applications aren’t graded solely on a person’s experience with drones, but rather their relevant technical skills.

“(Participants have) skills, like being an electrical engineer,” Rambo points to Rob Ladkani, Altavian’s newest employee. “A lot of the skills transfer over, but a lot of it is brand new stuff. That’s where the HBOTT program is great – at least in our industry – taking people who have job skills already, are really good at what they do and bringing them into the world of unmanned aircraft.”

Ladkani has extensive experience and a master’s degree from UF in electrical engineering, but had never seen or touched a drone when he applied to Altavian. That changed when he started as an electrical engineer with the company in May 2014. Ladkani feels at home with small companies, but he was initially concerned about job security.

“If my position is being funded by a grant, does that mean my position is time-limited?” Ladkani asked. Rambo explained that the position itself is not funded by the grant, rather the grant provides reimbursement of OJT costs, which allows skilled professionals like Ladkani to enhance his existing technical skills for a high-growth industry.

After leaving his previous company due to limited growth opportunities, Ladkani started exploring career opportunities. “I wasn’t necessarily looking for an unmanned aerial vehicle position, but I was looking for something in an industry that was growing,” he said.

Attracted to working with an industry dedicated to the future of technology, Ladkani is also passionate about agricultural technology opportunities.

“Technology can improve and add value to agriculture,” he said. “Agriculture is going to need unmanned aerial vehicles.” In its mission statement, Altavian outlines four focused areas to use unmanned aircraft to simplify and increase the effectiveness of data collection: natural resources and conservation; construction and infrastructure; inspection and monitoring; and precision agriculture.

Altavian is currently seeking a business development project manager in the agricultural industry. Rambo, confident with the geospatial and professional mapping aspects, said the company is ready to explore applications of the aircraft. Rambo isn’t the only one anticipating Altavian’s future. When asked where Ladkani sees himself in five years, Ladkani said he hoped to still be Altavian, overseeing several engineers and developing new products.

Learn more about Altavian.