This week marked the start of Career and Technical Education Month®, a campaign to increase public knowledge of CTE programs and pathways. In a recent proclamation declaring February as CTE month, the President noted “We are living in an age of incredible progress, with an abundance of new career fields offering high-wage jobs, especially in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Career and technical education provides students with the in-demand skills required by these coveted positions, developing their talents and providing them with the tools to be successful in the modern economy.”
This story highlights some of the innovative programs and career development opportunities available in Florida to prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs.
In today’s rapidly evolving economy, there is a growing need for workers to continue their educations throughout their careers in order to upskill and meet current workforce demands.
To help meet these needs, an increasing number of companies are developing innovative programs with education institutions to support their employees’ career development while helping to fill their talent needs.
One of the Orlando-area’s largest employers is doing just that.
Disney has partnered with several education institutions to establish a number of innovative programs that allow workers at its Central Florida-based parks to complete the degrees and credentials needed to climb the career ladder.
Meet Matthew Dorak
Workers like Matthew Dorak, who joined Disney in 2012, can take advantage of multiple opportunities. Mathew, who completed a four-year, Disney-sponsored apprenticeship program in 2016, is currently working to complete an Associate of Science (AS) degree in Supervision and Management for Industry at Valencia College, compliments of Disney.
“Going to work for Disney was the best thing I ever did,” he said.
As a 47-year-old New York native who relocated to the Sunshine State a decade ago in the midst of a nationwide recession, Matthew encountered a chilly job market in Central Florida.
“I did understand that living in Florida was cheaper, but I had no idea how tough it was to get a good blue collar job here,” he said.
Matthew, who had previously attended a trade school and worked as a plumber for a Long Island school district for 15 years, eventually found work as an attraction mechanic for The Walt Disney Company in 2012.
Learning while earning
Matthew joined Disney through its four-year, company-sponsored mechanical apprenticeship program, a requirement for attraction mechanics.
“I was able to go into a job market that was pretty much dead in 2012 and learn while I was working,” Matthew said. “It was beneficial for me because Disney paid for my apprenticeship, so I was able to make money while I learned. And it’s beneficial for them because they get to train people how they want to be able to work at Disney.”
By offering incentives such as on-the-job training and guaranteed wage structures, employers who sponsor apprentices through registered apprenticeship programs in Florida seek to improve productivity by attracting and retaining more highly-qualified workers while deepening their region’s talent pool.
The Central Florida Mechanical Joint Apprenticeship Training Committee is sponsored by Walt Disney World and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America through Carpenters Local 1820, which also administers the program in partnership with Orange Technical College, where Matthew undertook his apprenticeship courses one night a week between 4:30 and 9 p.m.
“I still had to go to work from 11 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. after class,” Matthew said. “It was tough.”
Individuals who enroll in the program receive paid tuition for the apprenticeship and are eligible for journeyman positions — jobs for workers who have successfully completed an official apprenticeship qualification — throughout Walt Disney World Engineering Services, which come with competitive pay and the same benefits granted to full-time, hourly Disney Cast Members. Those benefits include eligibility for health insurance, vacation, and holiday pay.
‘Tech Express’ to success
By earning his journeyman’s license through Orange Technical College, Matthew was also able to benefit from an innovative program that makes it easy for students in technical programs to transition to Valencia and earn credits toward their degree.
Tech Express, a consortium partnership between Orange Technical College, Osceola Technical College, and Valencia, launched in 2016 with a goal of raising awareness of how students can receive college credit upon completion of a technical certificate that they can apply toward earning a degree.
“The articulation agreements (between the technical colleges and Valencia) have been in place for a long time, but very few students claimed their credits before Tech Express advisors were placed on the technical college campuses,” said Lisa Bliss, one of the Tech Express advisors at Valencia College who works with students at the technical colleges.
Tech Express advisors help students at Orange Technical College and Osceola Technical College review career options and opportunities available for them to earn credit. They also provide information on Valencia programs and assist students in applying and enrolling at the college.
According to Bliss, the number of students claiming their credits has grown tremendously since Tech Express advisors were first deployed to technical college campuses in October 2016.
Approximately 8-12 Orange Technical College students per year claimed their technical college credits at Valencia prior to the launch of the program. In 2017 — the first full year Tech Express advisors were placed on Orange Technical College campuses — 246 students were assisted in the transition process. That number surged to 484 students by the end of 2018.
“Matthew was one of the first students I met, and he was eager to claim his credits,” Bliss said.
In addition to getting him a job at Disney, Matthew earned 24 of the 60 credits required for the Supervision and Management for Industry degree he is pursuing at Valencia by completing his apprenticeship at Orange Technical College. In the time since Matthew completed his apprenticeship, the number of credits awarded to students who complete the same program at Orange Technical College and pursue the same degree at Valencia has risen from 24 to 27.
Welcome to ‘Disney Aspire’
The cost of paying for college, however, can be a significant barrier for students of all ages.
Fortunately, Matthew’s employer has removed that potential roadblock thanks to Disney Aspire, an education investment program launched in August 2018.
Disney Aspire seeks to create additional educational opportunities for hourly employees and cast members. The program covers 100% of tuition at in-network schools — including Matthew’s tuition at Valencia — and reimburses application fees, along with required books and course materials.
Participants also receive individual coaching — starting with help during the application process and continuing all the way through graduation — through Disney’s partnership with Guild Education.
The Disney Aspire network of schools enables eligible employees and cast members to pursue undergraduate and master’s degrees, high school completion, English-language and Spanish-language learning, and vocational training.
As of May 2019, the program counts 40% of Disney’s 85,000 full-time and part-time hourly employees with 90 days of service among its participants.
In the years since completing his Disney-sponsored apprenticeship, Matthew has been promoted to become a planned work specialist at Disney, a temporary position with the potential to become permanent. Earlier this year, he was encouraged by a supervisor to pursue a postsecondary degree to further advance his career.
“I had a lot of reservations…a lot of the students are much, much younger,” Matthew said about enrolling in college for the first time in his late 40’s. “But I was told it would be a good idea to get an AS degree to move into management because I was a good candidate.”
For his part, Matthew is grateful for both his employer and the program that allowed him to get a leg up on his pursuit of a college degree.
“Disney is paying for my schooling through the Aspire program and you really can’t beat that,” he said. “I’m so glad I went through the apprenticeship and the technical college…it helped me get to where I am today.”