TAMPA, Fla. — For eight years, the Future Career Academy in Hillsborough County has focused on creating a curriculum with the workforce at its core.

What You Need To Know

  • Future Career Academy in Hillsborough County helps students get connected with potential employers

  • As part of the program, students take field trips to learn about careers that don't need a college degree

  • Hector Cortes, the owner of Allen and Hector Elite Auto, is one of the business owners opening his doors to students

The program partners with area businesses to expose them to careers that don't require a college degree.

Hector Cortes owns Allen and Hector Elite Auto and said he decided to partner with the program for the first time this year.

He said growing up, he always had a passion for taking cars apart and customizing them.

“There’s more opportunities for computer programing and doing a lot of custom stuff and colors, like playing the chemist,” he said.

That's a message Cortes said he wants to relay to the visiting students who may be interested in a similar career.

Cortes said this is more than just his job — it’s the place that gave him a chance to learn.

He said it was 24 years ago when he walked into the business hoping to work and earn some money to help provide for his family.

“I didn’t graduate, I grew up with a family of five, we were in poverty,” Cortes said.

He said his first responsibility at the business was to detail cars, and he would do about 40 a week.

“I felt wanted," he said of the experience. "I felt that I was needed."

Years of detailing eventually led to more extensive customization of cars, and then he began to provide customers with estimates for repair work.

“I feel like my calling here is just to lift people’s spirits and let them know it’s going to be OK,” Cortes said.

Now, he said he is hoping to pay it forward with the help of the Future Career Academy.

Jose Colindres, executive director of the Brink Foundation that has partnered with the program, said about 70% of students in Hillsborough County don’t go to college and choose career pathways instead.

He said helping them find a successful career is the main mission.

“We’re here to connect students to employers to have jobs that benefit the community,” Colindres said.

Cortes said there’s a need for more young people in the auto industry, which is why he’s making it his mission to open his doors to anyone willing to learn.

“One of my goals is to actually spread love, and for these young graduates to actually get into trade and do something that they actually love,” he said.