HOLMES AND WASHINGTON COUNTIES -- More high school students are earning industry certifications.
Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart at Florida Department of Education announced last month that Florida's high school students earned about more 20,000 industry certifications last year over the previous, an FDOE news release said.
"Tomorrow's work force is sitting in our classrooms today, and it is critical that Florida students are prepared for a successful future," Stewart said. "Industry certifications offer Florida students lifelong learning opportunities that will open the door to high-skill, high-demand career opportunities."
In Holmes County School District, more than a thousand students are enrolled in industry certification programs. The district offers curriculum in certification in business, agriculture, welding, TV production, aerospace and biotech.
About 40-percent of students enrolled in these programs go on to receive certifications, officials said.
"The certifications can be used to meet clock hours in approved technical college programs or credits in approved college level programs," said Pamela Price, HCSD instructional administrator. "They can also be used to apply for jobs during the summer or once a student has graduated. The industry certification gives them credentials that many students do not have when applying for jobs."
Price said students are very interested in the programs and the school district is "exploring other areas of industry certification that will provide employment opportunities for out students in areas of high demand for out local area."
Holmes County High School junior Zion Glass, 17, said Monday during his upper-level welding class that he entered the program to refine and build on existing skills. He welds at home.
"I like doing things with my hands; I'm not much of a computer savvy guy," he said. "This is just something to help me learn and grow in my skill to help other people with it."
Glass can expect to use what he learns for more than a hobby through certification in the welding industry, which is projected to continue to grow in the upcoming years.
"A lot of people are looking for welders, whether it be aluminum boat builders, trailer builders," said HCHS welding instructor Shane Bush, who became a welder as an adult about 20 years post high school. "There's a lot of different trades out there that needs welders. When a lot of people think of welders they think of the pipeline, (but) most of them don't go to the pipeline. They stay local."
Junior Seth Miles, said his uncle is welder, and, similar to fellow classmate Glass's interest in the program, "I thought it would be a good trade to learn."
According to national estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 a welder earned on average $42,450 annually. A welder in Florida earned much lower, ranging from $24,110 to $38,610 annually -- a mean of $31,360.
In 2016, the median household income in Holmes and Washington counties was $37,437 and $38,330, respectively, a different BLS report showed. The median household income for the state was $50,860.
With such skills, in a two-person household, a welder could be a lucrative occupation locally and in a position to live a comfortable middle-class lifestyle.
In Washington County School District, more than 400 students have enrolled in certification programs for the current school year, district data shows. The district offers curriculum for certification in agriculture, engineering and business programs.
WCSD boasts an average passing rate of 93 to 95 percent, officials said.
"These certifications are very valuable to the students in resume information and experience when applying for a job," said Gail Riley, Director of Curriculum and Instruction at WCSD.
Students may continue their education in the business and Project Lead the Way engineering programs at Florida Panhandle Technical College, Riley said, as additional courses enable students to pursue additional certifications.
In both school districts, industry certification programs are offered to all students. Students may find enrollment and certification information in their Student Registration Booklet and may seek additional information from guidance counselors.
"All three of these programs are of high interest to the students," added Riley, "and the teachers are very excited about offering the curriculum which enables the students to excel."