Central Florida is quickly becoming a hub for industry. Modeling and simulation, aerospace and defense, and advanced manufacturing are now synonymous with our region and our talented workforce. As the demand increases for highly skilled and trained employees to fill the positions being created, Orange Technical College has listened carefully to create a unique approach to education: one that tells the story of a technical career as rewarding, engaging and vital for Central Florida’s future.
With five campuses and an integrated, hands-on approach to various programs, Orange Technical College works closely with professionals already in the field to understand what they need, and the students themselves to be sure they are ready and able to start or advance their careers. Here, Associate Superintendent Dr. Michael Armbruster reveals how Orange Technical College is redefining the options available for those pursuing a technical degree.
Tell us a bit about your background. How did you come to be involved with Orange Technical College?
I started my career 32 years ago as a non-degreed vocational teacher at our OTC – Westside Campus and served in the classroom for seven years. During that time, I went back to school and got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees and went on to become an assistant principal and then principal at three local high schools before coming home to career and technical education, or CTE, in 2013.
During my 19 years at the high school level, I saw a focus on college as the destination and decided we needed to shift that focus to a career as the destination and college as just one way to get to a great career. Career and technical education isn’t just good for “those students” — it’s good for all students. With that mindset, we have grown the number of students engaged in CTE programming from 29,261 to 51,293 in the past five years. That’s a 75% growth of students learning the value of CTE across Orange County Public Schools, and that is just the beginning.
What areas of Central Florida’s workforce can benefit from the training provided in OTC programs?
Orange Technical College strives to build sustainable, relevant workforce and job creation pipelines in key industries throughout Central Florida. While we provide career and technical training in many different skilled trades, our focus moving forward will align with critical regional needs including building construction trades, advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics, health sciences, hospitality and tourism, and information technology.
What kinds of careers can students pursue with OTC’s certifications and accreditations?
Our graduates are prepared to enter the workforce immediately after completing their program. The certifications and/or licensures these students attain ensure employers that graduates of OTC have the tangible skills and knowledge to be productive members of an organization from the start. With over 60 career-themed programs offered, students can enter professional careers in medical, information technology, construction, transportation, and hospitality fields, just to name just a few. Graduates also have the ability to use their newfound technical skills to start their own businesses. Others use their technical skills to secure high-wage, high-skill positions, and still others continue their education at a state college, using their articulated college credit to save money and time.
At what stage in their education or career do people typically come to OTC?
Orange Technical College serves students from 16 to 86 years old and from every kind of background. We engage students at the high school level, introducing them to skilled trades through technical electives and/or dual enrollment opportunities. Our career certificate and apprenticeship programs are comprised of a unique blend of students who may be just beginning their search for a meaningful career or seeking an entirely new career path from one they have pursued for years. We also train university graduates who are looking to update and improve their personal skill set.
What are some misconceptions about technical careers and education?
For years, we have fought to change the perception of the old “vocational” education model. The CTE programming of today is highly advanced, highly specialized and deeply engaging. In fact, there should no longer be an “either/or” mindset. College and career tracks are intertwined more than ever, with the opportunity to provide students the best of both worlds as they learn tangible technical skills while pursuing higher education degrees if they so choose.
Orlando is home to a unique educational ecosystem with extraordinary pathways for students to pursue their interests, and we are doing a disservice to students and families by not exposing them to all avenues of career success. Some of the best-paying and most rewarding careers can be found in local industries like construction, simulation, healthcare, hospitality and more, many of which do not require a traditional four-year degree — proving that there is more than one way to a great career.
How do Orange Technical College programs differ from those of other colleges and universities?
Students of Orange Technical College are immersed in their field of interest from the first day of classes. Each career and technical education program is taught by an experienced industry instructor, and each of our program areas has oversight from an advisory board made up of business and industry leaders who help shape curriculum and make sure students are learning the most up-to-date information with modern equipment in workforce-centric classrooms. Students of OTC enjoy the hands-on learning model and how our classrooms and school culture differ from that of the typical educational experience. It is important that we foster the interests of all students no matter where their interests may lie. It’s important that we start asking students, “What do you want to be, and how can we get you there?”