Technology is critical in today’s workplace, but it’s no longer relegated to IT departments. Newsrooms, manufacturing plants, auto repair shops and almost every other business operating today all use technology. For this reason, Polk County Public Schools is helping prepare today’s students for entry into the workforce through a variety of academies.

“We believe that technology is an incredibly important thing for students to learn. It has been said that teachers are challenged to help equip and prepare students for jobs that don’t even exist, using technology that has yet to be invented. At Roosevelt Academy, we very much believe this to be true,” said Christen Kauffman, a teacher at Roosevelt Academy of Leadership and Applied Technology.

Continue reading for examples of three technology-related academies and what they are teaching students to prepare them for tomorrow’s careers.

Mulberry Academy for Applied Technologies

Todd Thuma, a teacher in the Academy for Applied Technologies at Mulberry Senior High, said his academy prepares students for some of the fastest-growing fields in technology.

“Automation is the hot field right now. Keeping Amazon and Walmart fulfillment centers running with automation — not to mention other companies like Publix — involves a huge amount of technology. Many of these systems are integrated in network technologies enabled to collect data and information on distribution and maintenance.”

He explained how technology is used in some fields. “A journeyman welder today is more likely to be using a computer numerical control (CNC) welding machine than doing the welding in a production facility. Knowing how to operate a CNC machine extends to fabrication and the manufacturing of all kinds of parts and goods.”

“Students will discover how careers of today and beyond rely heavily on a combination of these studies. For example, self-driving automobiles require robotic technology. Engineering and automotive knowledge will be essential if students plan to help with the development of alternative energy automobiles.”

Today’s automobiles are complex, he said, “and students must be comfortable with adapting to changing technologies. Our students can earn certification to become qualified automotive technicians.”

In robotics, students are prepared for computer-aided design and to build and program robots. In the engineering program, students can earn a certification in a computer-aided design software program.

“[The academy] is dedicated to getting students ready for exciting careers in the fields of automotive, robotics and engineering. The school’s tagline emphasizes this: A.R.E. You Ready!”

Digital Media Technology Academy

Lori Jenkins, a teacher in the Kathleen High School Digital Media Technology Academy, said technology has increased during the pandemic, and so has the need for highly skilled laborers.

“You don’t have to look further than our own county to see this is true,” Jenkins said. “I am watching Amazon move into Polk County with several warehouses. I toured Medline Industries’ warehouse a couple of years ago. The whole system is driven by technology, all the way down to the person picking the order who is wearing a headset so he or she can hear what items must be put in the box for the order. Saddle Creek Logistics Services also needs highly skilled tech laborers because their assembly line is also run by technology.”

In her academy, students learn how to use Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator and Premiere Pro to prepare them for careers in television, such as producing the news or helping create music videos. Students, she said, will gain knowledge and experience that will prepare them for entry-level positions as multimedia artists, content creators, graphic designers, animators, web designers, photographers, audio/visual production managers, advertisers, printers, marketers, and publishers.

The academy also teaches students “soft skills,” such as how to work in a team setting and how to ask customers questions.

“Working in a team setting is essential. It takes more than one person to make a website, commercial, online magazine or graphic design possible. Effective communication is a big part of teamwork, along with learning how to stay on task.”

They offer students hands-on experience with multimedia; “In TV production, students have opportunities to interview staff and students as well as video record athletic events,” Jenkins said. “We have several non-profit organizations that offer students the chance to earn community service hours by using their skills and knowledge. Our goal is to place students into internships by their senior year.”

The largest feeder school has a pre-academy of TV production, which allows the academy to help them “gain more knowledge, industry certifications, college credits and the chance for dual enrollment. Our program also aligns to Polk State College’s two-year Digital Media Technology associate of science degree.”

The academy is looking for corporate sponsors. “We really want to foster partnerships with businesses so our students can use their skills and put what they’re learning into practice. We know that it will take partnerships with many companies to have enough places for our students. We want these sponsors to know that we appreciate their feedback on our academy and look forward to working with them.”

Academy of Applied Technology

The relatively new Roosevelt Academy of Leadership and Applied Technology focuses on the use of technology in career fields.

“The world is changing so quickly, and the global pandemic has shown it’s not just the evolutionary changes of technology anymore,” Roosevelt’s Kauffman said. “The workforce is changing. Education is changing.  Medicine is changing. We must ensure that students are comfortable and confident with technology and provide them with an ever-increasing toolbelt of resources. It’s not just about cool iPad apps or being able to type using Microsoft Word. It’s about being a true digital native who can adapt and thrive in various work and learning environments. These students can pursue a passion in any field — even carving their own pathway.”

The academy offers courses in digital design (Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator); an introduction to technology (Microsoft); and a few courses in coding, some leading to industry certifications that look good on resumes, Kauffman said. The academy hopes to expand its course offerings, including coding languages like Python and digital design courses that lead to certifications in Adobe Dreamweaver.

“Our goal is to arm students with necessary skills, so they are ready to enter an industry job upon graduating high school.

Central Florida’s next-generation talent is a leading asset within Polk County. Home to the state’s only STEM-centered university, 7 institutions of higher learning who are awarding over 5,000 degrees annually and over 23 high school career academies, Polk County has a workforce pipeline equipped for success.