2024 Convening: Access in Action! Register Today

Close this search box.
Community Colleges are the best kept secret for workforce development in America – Tampa offers families affordable options for upward mobility



Marilyn Barger, Executive Director of the Florida Advanced Technological Education Center (FLATE) at Hillsborough Community College, shows parents why they should consider community colleges as important STEM career options for their child:

  • Affordability. Workforce programs in technical areas create graduates immediately ready to work and these programs are often well funded. 
  • Transferable. Many of the programs are transferable to four-year programs across the country. 
  • Eliminating student loan debt. Many employers will pay for those next two years of school to complete a bachelor’s degree. This creates opportunities for students to earn their STEM degrees with little to no loan debt.
  • Career diversity. In addition to manufacturing, many different types of workforce education programs are offered at most 2-year colleges to meet support their local workforce needs. Police academies, health sciences and a variety of other industry sectors fields offer similar programs that have pathway opportunities to earn stackable credentials and upward workplace mobility.

The FLATE program works with schools and community-based organizations to showcase the pathways available for their students in manufacturing and other related STEM fields. Families are regularly invited to student tours of manufacturing facilities and the program has seen an increase in parent attendance every year.

Read More about Manufacturing Tours Here

Introducing business to the community

Two-year colleges and their industry partners host events like robotics camps or other activities in celebration of manufacturing month (October) to expose the community to opportunities. 

“You don’t do what you don’t know. There is a perception issue so our work with the community is to lift the misconceptions about the industry and its career pathways,” says Barger. “ It is critical that the community knows about high-wage, high-skill manufacturing and related technical careers.”

“We invite families to join students on the last day of the manufacturing and robotics camps so families can witness the state-of-the-art equipment in the community and technical colleges as well as to witness what the campers learned about robotics, programming and current technologies,” says Barger.

“The families are ‘wowed’ by seeing their children use such spectacular machines and it helps change the false narratives around technical careers. The tours help a lot too, because families are finally able to see what goes on in ‘that big building at the edge of town with a tiny sign.’” 

Parents in the programs

In addition to serving students directly from high school, many participants in the technical career programs in Florida are parents themselves. The term “family engagement” requires a much broader vision for the community college to ensure these families are successful. 

“We have a lot of working adults in our programs that are parents themselves,” says Barger. 

“The college makes course scheduling flexible to support a variety of schedules. We offer courses at different times, both in the daytime and nighttime, and hybrid programs that include both online and in person learning.”

In addition to flexible programming, the college has a day-care on campus for parents to attend classes without distraction. “There are a lot of opportunities at the two-year colleges to support the education of adults already working and who want to further their education,” says Barger.

Partnerships with Industry

The college programs and FLATE listen to businesses and industry associations to define the most relevant and up-to-date curriculum possible to produce the talent pool they need. Simultaneously the college offers industry partners tips, resources and connections to education to help them engage with parents, children and the whole community.

FLATE maintains common information about pathways and opportunities to share best practices with other community based organizations. Barger’s team also summarizes statewide data to inform efforts to expose educators and the greater community to career options.

“We are still figuring it out,” says Barger. “There have been failures around not getting families to show up for events because they are at work, but we keep compiling the lists of things we know do work. Sharing best practices that others can replicate helps generate buzz and highlights local opportunities.” 

FLATE Resources:

Educational Resources 

STEM Lesson Plans

Career Education Resources

Tampa STEM Ecosystem 

Through a strong network of academic, business, and community partnerships, the Tampa Bay STEM Network provides the infrastructure to create a well-connected portfolio of STEM experiences that result in the academic success of and multiple opportunities for children, adolescents and adults to explore STEM. As a result of this vibrant ecosystem we are strengthening our local talent base and STEM pipeline, and contributing to the vitality of our community.

Florida Advanced Technological Education Center (FLATE)

The Florida Advanced Technological Education Center (FLATE), a National Science Foundation Center of Excellence in high-technology manufacturing, is the go-to organization for manufacturing and advanced technical education, best practices and resources supporting the high performance skilled workforce for Florida’s manufacturing sectors. FLATE provides exemplary industry partnerships, workforce opportunities, and educational synergy throughout the state of Florida by connecting industry and workforce needs to targeted educational endeavors at many community and state colleges across Florida.