Lee County High Tech Center Central has continued to see an increase in enrollment due to the various occupational programs it offers.
High Tech Central opened in 1967 as the Lee County Area Vocational Technical Center and is now one of 46 post-secondary technical facilities in Florida.
High Tech Central Director William McCormick said it is a school of opportunity because in this economy schools like this are greatly needed.
According to statistics that he presented to the Lee County School Board Tuesday afternoon, 65 percent of all new jobs created by 2015 will require further training after high school graduation, which does not necessarily mean a college degree.
Last year, 1,300 students were enrolled in the school, ranging in age from 16 to older than 60. The biggest age group is between the ages of 16-24 at 49 percent. The second largest age group is between 25-44 at 39 percent.
He said there is a skills gap between the kinds of jobs out there and the availability of employees holding those skills. He said the community does not have the qualified employees who can currently take those jobs.
To bridge that gap, High Tech Central has a task force for each 30 occupational programs offered at the school. McCormick said the school has at least three members from the industry who are business owners or employees of the community who meet at least twice a year. Those meetings address the equipment and curriculum needed for the particular program to continue to be successful.
"The advisory group tells us whether or not we have the right stuff or the curriculum needs to include something else," he said. "It keeps us plugged in ... keeps our programs connected to that industry."
McCormick said 99 percent of his staff comes out of the business world for many reasons, including seeing the employee challenge and wanting to become part of the solution. He said 50 percent of his staff has been with the school for more than 25 years.
The occupational programs offered at High Tech Central range from 120 to 1,900 clock hours, which cost $2.78 per hour for the students. For a student taking 1,080 hours, the tuition is $3,000.
The school operates on a budget of $5 million. Eighty percent of those funds come from the State Workforce Development Training Funds, 15 percent from student fees, 3 percent from the school district K-12 funds and 2 percent from state and federal grants.
During Tuesday's meeting, School Board Chairman Thomas Scott addressed the issue of what the school's biggest risk is going into the future when trying to reach its full potential.
McCormick said the risk is making sure the school is equipped with the latest technology to keep the programs going.
"We have to keep our facility up to date and that takes resources," he said. "We have done a decent job over the last seven years, but that is a constant battle that you fight."
High Tech Central has also been involved in many initiatives to expand its programs.
One of those initiatives included opening an extension program in LaBelle at the Edison State College campus for licensed practical nurses. Another initiative included the new turbine generator program at the central campus, which was in partnership with Cape Coral business TGM.
In order to meet one of its challenges, the idea of changing the center's name was also addressed during the meeting.
McCormick said he hopes to change the name of the school in the near future, so he can better communicate what they do to the community. Some of those possibilities include Fort Myers Technical Center, Lee Technical Center and Lee County Institute of Technology.
Board member Jeanne Dozier said the programs at High Tech Central are fascinating.
"They do serve a tremendous void in our community to prepare people for the work force," she said.
Board member Don Armstrong agreed that the center is a great asset for the community.
"If it weren't for that school, I wouldn't be a plumber," he said. "I don't think people know how important that school is to the community."