Lee County residents are now eligible for scholarships and tuition assistance to earn micro-credentials at Florida Gulf Coast University. This innovative offering helps enhance workplace-relevant skills and expand career opportunities.
The university developed an array of “digital badges,” or series of badges, in collaboration with leading employers in a variety of fields to address skills gaps in today’s fast-changing workforce. These non-credit micro-credentials are designed for working professionals as well as students. The digital badges attest to the recipient’s competency in core skills that apply to the general workforce or specific industries.
Fourteen of these programs are available at no cost to eligible Lee County residents through $1 million in funding from the Lee County Economic Development Office’s workforce training and certification program. The program was developed under the direction of the Board of County Commissioners and funded through the federal American Rescue Plan Act in response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The business and work environment is quickly changing,” said Aysegul Timur, vice president and vice provost for strategy and program innovation at FGCU. “These micro-credentials are responsive to these changes, so we meet the needs of the employers in the region. Most importantly to me as an economist, we keep the talent here in Southwest Florida.”
Participants in the designated programs can advance their future-ready portfolio and professional prospects in critical Southwest Florida workforce areas, including technology, aging services, construction management, sales and emergency management and preparation. Proof of residency is required to register; tuition and fee scholarships are dependent on individual assistance eligibility.
“These short-term credentials are designed to upskill and reskill members of our community and better prepare them for jobs in related areas,” said Kristen Vanselow, assistant vice president of innovative education and partnerships at FGCU. “As the region’s comprehensive university, we are thrilled to provide opportunities for members of our community to earn relevant micro-credentials to promote career advancement. We believe that talent lives here and strive to support additional opportunities for continued reskilling and upskilling.”
The IBM Skills Academy, for instance, provides industry-recognized certifications in a variety of levels and technical competencies. Key topics such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data analytics and cloud computing offer four levels of certification. Designed by IBM and taught by FGCU faculty, the curriculum targets a wide spectrum of participants, from those just learning the basic concepts to individuals with practitioner-level certification applying concepts and creating solutions, Vanselow said.
Chrissann Ruehle, a management instructor in FGCU’s Lutgert College of Business, taught the IBM Skills Academy pilot class on artificial intelligence (AI) last fall. She cited research on job postings from a 2020 Burning Glass Technologies report showing the top-three most requested-skills in today’s job pool are in AI and machine learning, cloud technology and internet infrastructure (i.e. Internet of Things-IoT and 5G telecommunications).
“It’s really important to make sure we have people who are fully skilled and ready to bring those skills to the workforce,” she said. “AI is very pervasive. It is here. It is not a thing of the movies. We all have to learn how to live with it and how can we partner with that technology to work smarter, to work more efficiently, to help us be better at our jobs.”
Students in her class not only discussed critical issues around AI, they got hands-on experience using and applying machine-learning tools on a team project aimed at improving customer service in a hospitality scenario. Zhishan Liang, who’s pursuing a master’s degree in accounting and taxation at FGCU, said the badge class gave her new skill sets that complement the knowledge she’s gained in her degree program.
“I wanted to acquire new skills and to gain knowledge that will help me to position myself better when I go out to get an accounting job,” the Homestead, Florida native said.
Program details and application information are on the Office of Innovative Education and Partnerships website. Call 239-745-4700 for additional questions.