COVER STORY: Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast Sponsors Certified Production Technician Program
By Maria Sonnenberg // September 19, 2021
EDC Providing Life-Changing Opportunity
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Ten weeks can change a life. Just ask Matt Cromwell. Like many young people, Cromwell did not have a clear career path after graduating high school.
For a while, he tried flipping houses with his father, but the recession nixed that opportunity. He later checked out working at a call center and hated it.
“I was back to Square One,” said the Palm Bay resident. “I didn’t have much of a future.”
His wise pastor, Rev. Paul Fournier of Lifepoint Church in Palm Bay, suggested Matt investigate the 10-week Certified Production Technician Program that the not-for-profit business community coalition known as the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast sponsors at Eastern Florida State College.
It was just what Cromwell needed.
Two weeks after graduating from the program, the cost of which a scholarship covered, Cromwell had secured a job as assistant to the warehouse manager at United Space Coast Cables in Melbourne and has been moving – actually, make that sprinting– up the ladder since.
He is currently the supervisor at the warehouse, but the busy Cromwell is also materials manager, works with accounts payable and communicates with vendors and the community at large. His company loves him, and he loves his company.
“Every day is a new adventure,” he said. “It’s never boring. It’s a long day, but I absolutely love it.”
Despite the pandemic, manufacturing sector jobs such as Cromwell’s are still thriving, particularly in booming Brevard County.
“Manufacturing offers a very viable career,” said Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the EDC.
Not that long ago, Brevard lagged behind many areas of the country when it came to job growth.
Weatherman made it her mission to change that fact, meeting with industry leaders such as Elon Musk and Lockheed Martin to acquaint them with the benefits of the Space Coast.
Her efforts to lure manufacturing into Brevard have paid handsomely in job opportunities. Prior to the pandemic, Brevard’s annual job growth was more than twice the national average.
The area currently has more than twice the concentration of manufacturing jobs than much larger metropolitan areas such as Miami, Orlando and Tampa and is tops in the state for manufacturing job growth, and Florida is no slouch in that field since it has grown these types of jobs at three times the national average.
“We’re now up there with the most dynamic areas in the country,” said Brian Baluta, director of communications and partner relations at the EDC.
“We’re making everything from medical devices to building supplies. We have been leading the state in manufacturing job growth for the past four years and we’re punching above our weight on a national level.”
The game-changing projects include
■ Aerion Supersonic, a multi-year $300 million investment expected to generate at least 675 new jobs in Melbourne.
■ The relocation of Lockheed Martin’s Fleet Ballistic Missile Headquarters to Titusville brought 350 new jobs from California.
■ Embraer’s North American manufacturing operations have grown locally to nearly 1,000 jobs.
■ Blue Origin’s one-million-square-foot facility just south of the Kennedy Space Center employs 490.
■ Northrop Grumman’s Space Coast presence is now more than 3,000 jobs.
There is only one problem with this otherwise very bright picture.
“Manufacturers are looking for workers with experience, and it is hard to get experience unless you have a job,’” said certified CPT instructor Mike Ennis with the EDC.
To fill that void, the Economic Development Commission developed a program to promote manufacturing careers and drive manufacturing skill development in the county.
“The EDC jumped in to create the workforce of the future,” said Weatherman.
As aging skilled workers segue into retirement, a new army is needed, both to replace them and to meet increased demands. The manufacturing industry has been a best-kept secret, but the EDC is working overtime to raise awareness that the industry offers plenty of job security, challenging work and good salaries.
“It’s a fulfilling career for any person, with good wages and good benefits,” said Weatherman.
Earning a CPT rating provides a significant advantage in employability and wages, not to mention college credit. This credentialing program was originally targeted at workers who had experience in manufacturing but lacked a professional background. It has since evolved to include newcomers to the industry.
The industry-recognized certificate verifies that the student has mastered essential training in safety, quality practices and measurement, manufacturing processes and production and maintenance awareness. Earning the certification demonstrates to employers that the employee is serious about his career in the field.
The online format of the course allows students convenience as they participate in lectures from 6 to 10 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday nights from their home computers.
Students can interact with their instructor in real-time during these lectures, but if they cannot participate in the live lectures, they can still view the class later through the provided link and email any questions to the instructor.
Practice quizzes and vocabulary sheets help students ready for exams and study labs before each exam allows for further preparation.
In conjunction with the course, the EDC provides mentoring to increase success with the search for employment by helping students with resume building and interview skills and through job fairs that connect students with employers.
“They have a personal interest in you,” said Cromwell.
The program is heaven-sent for families who do not have the financial resources to pay for their student’s college education and for individuals who want good jobs without incurring a mountain of college debt.
According to a study from U.S. News & World Report, the average college student graduates with loan debt of more than $30,000. Compare that figure with the cost of the CPT program, a cost that is marginal, since, through the program, the EDC reduces the per-person program costs from $1,550 to $675, which includes books, fees and supplies.
Additional scholarships are available to cover that cost, however, applicants are responsible for a nominal program fee of $125.
Who can become a certified production technician? Anyone can. The program attracts a wide range of ages and experience, from recent high school graduates to military veterans and adults eager for a career change. No manufacturing experience is required, and students can be as young as 16 to be considered.
The CPT also serves as the first stepping stone towards an associate of science degree in engineering technology, since completion of the course translates into 15 credit hours that can be banked towards the 60-credit requirement for the degree.
“The CPT will get you in the door when other credentials are needed,” said Ennis, a former supervisor of technicians at Harris Corporation. “It is a great way to get a job,” said Ennis.
The EDC later this year expects to launch Manufacturing Boot Camp, an intensive learning experience in which CPT graduates can enroll.
“The Boot Camp provides them with an additional 12 credit hours, so by the time they complete it, they have a total of 27 credit hours towards a 60-credit-hour degree,” said Ennis.
Beyond the associate degree, students can opt for a bachelor’s in engineering technology, offered online by institutions such as Daytona State College.
CPT is a win-win for employers and employees. The former are assured of a trained workforce committed to a long-term career, while the latter can utilize this training tool to enter a profession that offers job satisfaction, a good living and a great future.
“CPT is changing lives one job at a time,” said Weatherman.
For more information on the EDC’s Certified Production Technician program, visit SpaceCoastEDC.org or ManufacturingInBrevard.org/CPT