Local manufacturers and job seekers have a new resource as AmSkills is opening a long-awaited Neighborhood Training Center at the Lealman Exchange.
The nonprofit career training organization held an open house Wednesday for its new satellite location. Dozens of representatives from companies like Bausch & Lomb and GE Aerospace attended and toured the facility, which will provide hands-on training in mechatronics, machining and robotics.
A $383,000 United Way Suncoast Community Investment Grant supports the Neighborhood Training Center. Recipients must use the money to serve an economically disadvantaged community with a significant minority population, and AmSkills officials chose the Lealman Exchange due to the previous success of several area Career Discovery Bootcamps.
Tom Mudano, president and CEO of AmSkills, noted that manufacturers increasingly struggle to find skilled job applicants and employees. He and local leaders believe the pre-apprenticeship and specialized courses taught at the facility will benefit employers and job seekers in Lealman and throughout the county.
“A lot of people have no idea they have job opportunities in their backyard,” Mudano said after the presentation. “Having a facility like this really opens up a lot of people’s eyes.”
Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando County’s leadership formed AmSkills through an interlocal agreement in 2014 as an economic and workforce development initiative. The nonprofit’s mission is to “transform lives and build communities” through training and apprenticeships.
The organization’s main facility is in Holiday, and Mudano said he doesn’t expect people to drive from South St. Pete to Pasco to learn much-needed skills. That underscores the need for smaller Neighborhood Training Centers.
Pinellas officials are investing considerable time and money to revitalize unincorporated Lealman. The Exchange sits in a Community Redevelopment Area, which local governments establish to spur growth in places where substandard facilities and inadequate infrastructure typically limits economic investment and development.
The area is also considered a food desert, and many residents lack vehicles. That increases the need for resources in the heart of the community.
Chris Moore, assistant to the county administrator and government liaison for Lealman, called AmSkills’ Career Discovery Bootcamps “life-changing.” He recalled a homeless veteran who participated in the first cohort and secured a job and housing within weeks.
“I know there was a single mom with a felony conviction who just needed a second chance,” Moore added. “And she found one here at Lealman Exchange with AmSkills.
“We are excited – and truly grateful – for this second phase of their programming.”
AmSkills’ machine-filled classrooms are on the second floor of a 77,000-square-foot, six-acre campus. Organizations like CareerSource Pinellas and the Florida Small Business Development Center also operate offices at the Exchange.
AmSkills conducted its first – and largest – two-week boot camp at the facility in January 2020. However, leadership canceled the in-person events due to the pandemic.
Just over three years later, Mudano and his team are celebrating opening their first satellite training center in the same location.
“It’s amazing,” Mudano said. “Being able to have neighborhood centers … is really going to help us help not only the people within the community but also the manufacturers in the area.”
Representatives from at least 15 organizations – from nonprofits to small businesses and conglomerates – attended the event. Mudano said providing a skilled workforce encourages companies “to stay where they are” and increases economic development opportunities for local governments.
Project manager Tyler Mudano, Tom’s son, led a tour of the classrooms. The AmSkills Center opens in April and will encompass three training programs.
The first is a three-month pre-apprenticeship Advanced Manufacturing course registered through the Florida Department of Education. Participants will receive foundational skills in mechatronics, machining and robotics.
While Mudano noted many people worry robots will eliminate jobs, he said there would always be a human need to repair the various systems that ensure functionality. The organization will also offer targeted training in electrical systems and basic measurement, materials and safety skills.
“You can learn on the job and also be earning money,” Mudano explained. “For every certification that you earn, that is a tick in pay. And it incentivizes them (participants) to keep getting more skills.”
He explained that manufacturers could also send small employee cohorts to AmSkills for specialized training. Community participants typically receive grants or scholarships for the more extensive programs.
The free boot camps will also continue at the Exchange and throughout the county. AmSkills is providing job skills to unsheltered residents at the Homeless Empowerment Program’s center in Clearwater next month.
“We have the backing of a lot of different people,” Mudano said. “Because we are helping a lot of different people – and the community.”