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Tina Wirth
Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Feb. 2, 201612:00 PM EST

Earn Up program's goal is to better educate workers

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by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Help wanted: Higher education required.

That’s the sign hung out by many businesses and the trend is only expected to grow. It’s estimated that by 2018, 48 percent of all jobs will require a trade certificate or two-year degree.

By 2025, the percentage of jobs that will require post-secondary education is projected to be as high as 60 percent.

Earn Up was launched in December 2014 to better position Northeast Florida in the workforce development market.

At the time, only 36 percent of working-age residents were educated beyond high school.

Earn Up has helped increase that by 2 percentage points, or more than 10,000 better-educated job candidates, said Tina Wirth, vice president of workforce development for JAXUSA Partnership, the economic development arm of the JAX Chamber.

“For economic development efforts, a skilled workforce is the key consideration for companies looking to relocate or expand,” she said.

The focus of the career tracks in Earn Up is on information technology, logistics, financial services, health care and life sciences, aviation and advanced manufacturing.

The initiative is funded by a $175,000 grant from the Lumina Foundation with additional support from CareerSource Northeast Florida, the Community Foundation of Northeast Florida, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care and Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Working with the public school districts in five Northeast Florida counties along with the region’s institutions of higher education, the program is for high school students, adults who either never enrolled in college or didn’t graduate and military veterans.

High school students are offered a text-alert system that connects them to local colleges via their smartphone.

The idea is to make the students more aware of post-secondary education opportunities and increase the number of students on the advanced career track.

“A high school diploma is no longer enough for a student and it’s no longer enough for Jacksonville,” Wirth said.

While 65 percent of the regional workforce has less than a two-year degree or industry education certificate, many people have some college credit.

Earn Up is designed to make those workers aware of opportunities to resume their education. The program also works with companies to develop ways to make it easy for employees to continue their education.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship. Awareness is the driver,” said Chris Holland, vice president of student services at Florida State College at Jacksonville.

“No one thing is the answer. It’s a combination of efforts.” he added.

Eric Jackson, director of student affairs and enrollment management at Edward Waters College, served on the committee that helped develop Earn Up.

He said Jacksonville is positioned to make the best of the program because all levels of higher education are available to potential students.

“We’ve got two-year schools, four-year schools, state schools, private schools and Edward Waters College — the only historically black college or university in Jacksonville,” he said. “No matter what you’re looking for in higher education, you can find it here.”

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Michael Fleming is the chief government, military and community relations officer at Jacksonville University. He led development of the Earn Up veterans’ category.

According to the chamber, more than 60 percent of military personnel who are discharged or retire while stationed in Northeast Florida plan to begin the civilian chapter of their lives here.

Fleming said veterans are some of the best candidates for resuming higher education because their military service makes them attractive hires for businesses and can translate directly into college credit.

“Veterans have a head start in the workforce. Earn Up enhances that advantage,” he said.

Fleming also led the effort to create an offshoot of Earn Up, the Northeast Florida Military Veteran College Network. Introduced in November, the network was recognized with the Jacksonville Business Journal’s 2015 Innovation in Education Award.

Fleming described the network as a one-stop shop where veterans can look at the colleges and universities in the area, learn how to convert their military and leadership experience into college credit and learn about certificate courses offered free to veterans.

“Many service members don’t want or need a four-year degree,” he said.

The value of Earn Up can be even greater for veterans, Fleming said, because benefits under the post-9/11 GI Bill may be transferred to a veteran’s spouse or children.

Wirth said an unanticipated market for Earn Up has developed in the local post-recession economy.

While companies for several years worked on reducing their workforces, they now are ready to hire more employees. Many are encouraging lower-skilled workers to improve their educations.

“Employers have to get creative about where to find talent,” she said. “It costs less to develop talent than to identify and recruit talent.”

For more information, visit earnup.org.

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Earn Up program’s goals for 2016

Adult learners

• Develop an education concierge for adult learners.

• Develop and implement employer engagement campaign for dropped out and/or stopped out learners while expanding use of prior learning assessment in regional institutions.

• Identify and increase certification opportunities leading to two-year and four-year degree outcomes.

High school students

• Implement Earn Up text-alert system in all six regional school districts.

• Expand promotion and participation in existing regional programs.

• Expand pilot of comprehensive industry integration model aligning high school attainment and college degree attainment with the use of dual enrollment programs.

Veterans

• Expand use of new Veterans Administration career exploration module (careerscope.com) through messaging to veteran students.

• Develop and implement a Northeast Florida university and college orientation program for local military installations.

• Share best practices and provide assistance to Northeast Florida universities and colleges when the institutions need additional expertise regarding veterans’ issues.

[email protected]

(904) 356-2466

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