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UpSkill Institute: A Modern Educational Model

According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor, in the early months of the pandemic, the nation’s unemployment rate reached its highest level since the Great Depression, skyrocketing to 14.7 percent in April of 2020, more than tripling from only 4.4 percent in March. While these figures have improved since then, the pandemic has permanently altered the labor market, requiring workers to be nimble, sharp and technologically fluent. Enter the UpSkill Institute at Jacksonville University.

Launched last October, the UpSkill Institute is dedicated to helping current JU students and career professionals to either enter the work force or remain on the cutting edge of their industries, despite the curve balls of COVID-19 or any other challenge. The institute offers certification courses in several technology and health care disciplines and is reflective of the university’s commitment to lifelong learning.

“With the creation of the UpSkill Institute, we are able to address the demand for the type of credentials companies and professionals are actively seeking,” said Jacksonville University Provost Christine Sapienza. “It’s a modern and versatile approach to education that benefits our career professional students, corporate and university partners alike. The occupation demand in the technology industry is one of the fastest growing in the nation. Our programs are not cookie cutter continuing education classes, they are robust and relevant courses that are very well received in the community.”

Will Miller, executive director of institutional analytics, effectiveness and strategic planning at Jacksonville University, has been involved with the development of the UpSkill institute from its inception. He considers it a true asset to a university like JU, which has managed to introduce so many educational opportunities at a time when they are truly relevant.

“There are many professionals either in the work force or about to enter it who want to be at the top of their fields, more marketable on the open job market or more valuable to their current employer,” he said. “The UpSkill Institute is a vehicle for them to do any of the above in a timely fashion that doesn’t require another full degree program or formal admission to the university as a whole.”

The UpSkill Institute houses the university’s SkillStorm and Availity programs. SkillStorm, a developer of technology talent, joined forces with JU in 2020 with the goal of building a pipeline of tech professionals who will ultimately be deployed to companies in Jacksonville, greater Florida and beyond. It provides scholarships to qualified applicants of need, and its immersive training program rapidly releases tech professionals into the work force where they can earn while they learn.

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Through the SkillStorm suite of courses, certifications can be earned in enterprise technologies, such as Pega, Salesforce, AWS, Azure, Java, Robotics and ServiceNow. Unique to the program is the designation of StormChaser trainees, a skilled contingent of accepted participants with strong technology backgrounds who are hired and paid by SkillStorm while they progress through a 12-week training program focused on advancing their skills and obtaining certifications. They will then join a client company where their newly honed skills will be utilized and where they will gain valuable career experience.

Like SkillStorm, the Availity program is equally dedicated to releasing highly trained, sought-after professionals into their chosen fields, only within the health care sector. Last year, after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Florida House Bill 607 into law, it became possible for nurse practitioners to obtain a license for independent practice. Until this point, nurses were required to pay for the oversight of a supervising physician. The new independent practice designation is available to nurses who, in the last five years, have completed 3,000 hours of physician-supervised practice experience, and either three credit hours of graduate-level coursework or 45 continuing education units in advanced pharmacology and differential diagnosis.

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Mere months after House Bill 607 passed, Jacksonville University, in partnership with Availity, the nation’s largest real-time health information network, began offering the 45 continuing education units. Offered through the UpSkill Institute, the units are packaged in self-paced, 100 percent online modules. In addition, due to a generous $100,000 donation from Availity, scholarships are available to qualified applicants on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Other opportunities offered under the UpSkill Institute umbrella include certifications in basic life support and advanced cardiac life support, and additional offerings — including many taught by JU faculty — are planned for the future. As the UpSkill Institute expands, Jacksonville University will continue to serve as a launch pad for the type of innovative and versatile talent today’s companies demand.

By Jacqueline Palsha
Director of Communications