Career Exploration, Credentials, and Externship Make Public Works Cadet Training Program a Workforce Development Powerhouse

Attracting people to public works careers poses interesting challenges, according to Ray Gorman, Director of Training for Public Works Academy in Saint Petersburg, Florida.

“It’s not where people head right out of high school,” Gorman pointed out. “Many people stumble into public works. Most have tried something else and now are coming to us.” Most of the people that he sees are on their second or third career.

To help increase awareness and interest in these occupations, Public Works Academy offers the Cadet Training Program. This 14-week program gives people the chance to explore the breadth of career options available in public works. It combines classroom instruction with an externship experience for participants. Gorman likens the intensive program to basic training in the military. It provides an overview of all the different fields in public works:

  1. Surveying / Mapping / Design
  2. Solid Waste Management
  3. Water Treatment
  4. Water Distribution
  5. Wastewater Collection
  6. Wastewater Treatment
  7. Stormwater Management
  8. Traffic Operations
  9. Streets Maintenance
  10. Fleet Maintenance
  11. Construction Services
  12. Parks & Landscaping Maintenance
  13. Indistrial Equipment Maintenance
  14. Environmental Lab Technology

The Cadet Training Program curriculum is based on key industry certifications, which graduates can test for and acquire upon completion of the course. The certifications are valuable to people in any of the career fields covered and will make graduates of the cadet program valuable to potential employers. Certifications covered are:

  • Class B Commercial Drivers License (CDL)
  • Defensive Driving
  • Forklift Certification
  • Florida Department of Transportation Intermediate Maintenance of Traffic (MOT)
  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection Qualified Stormwater Management Inspector
  • OSHA 10-Hr Construction Certification
  • Pinellas County Landscape Best Management Practices
  • CPR/AED/First Aid
  • FEMA Emergency Management

Some of this coursework can also be parlayed into credit toward an associates degree at Pinellas Technical College. Students can earn 12 credits for a Class B Commercial Drivers License and 3 credits with the Maitenance of Traffic certification.

Public Works Academy focuses on the needs of people in public works employed by municipalities and utilities as well as transportation, engineering, and construction companies. Having been around for 30 years, the academy was the first of its kind in the country. It was launched when area municipalities were looking for a way to grow their pool of potential workers. Partnerships were formed with area high schools and technical schools, which deliver training for entry-level jobs.

“Our facility succeeded where others didn’t,” said Gorman. According to him, the program’s three-part approach gives it the resiliency to withstand shifting trends. Public Works Academy offers programs for all points along the career path with entry-level training, apprenticeship programs, and continuing education.

Over the three decades that the academy has been around, other similar programs around the country have opened and then closed. Recently, there has been a resurgence in interest in this type of program. A recent report from Brookings, explores the potential for “infrastructure academies” to connect more workers with opportunities in this space. The report also sites caveats, such as a need for regional and industry-wide communication, planning, and collaboration in order to reap the maximum benefit from such programs.

Beyond the Cadet Program, the Public Works Academy also has a successful and growing Registered Apprenticeship program, which includes the Maintenance Technician, Municipal (Roadway) program.

There is a lot of interest among municipalities across Florida to launch apprenticeships and grow their public works workforce. The academy helps streamline this process, which can be lengthy. When a municipality is interested, the academy staff help create the curriculum, using the City of Saint Petersburg’s as a template and modifying it to suit the new municipality’s needs. Public Works Academy then provides the training to the apprentices, often hosting joint class with apprentices from different municipalities.

Classroom instruction offered through the academy are provided by the Pinellas Technical College and accredited by the Council on Occupational Education. Individual programs may also be accredited by national and state accrediting agencies.

As people progress in their careers, they can come back to Public Works Academy for their continuing education.

Moving forward, Gorman would like to see more outreach to kids in school. Today, children are not told about these careers in elementary, middle or high school. More programs are needed to help young people visualize a career in public works.

“These are careers that make a difference in people’s lives every single day,” said Gorman.