Innovative partnerships, a continuum philosophy and a broad view of job creation are paving the way for regional growth.
Metro Orlando serves as the headquarters for Darden Restaurants, Tupperware Brands Corp., American Automobile Association and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, among many others.
There are U.S or divisional headquarters for Siemens Energy Inc., Mitsubishi Hitatchi Power Systems Americas, Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications, Science Applications International Corp., Electronic Arts, Spain’s Indra Systems and Australia’s Adacel, to name a few.
In Tampa Bay, the trend continues with different names, including Carrabba’s Italian Grill, BlueGrace Logistics, Sykes Enterprises, Bloomin’ Brands and GTE Financial. Et al.
Companies select locations based on a number of economic development factors, such as infrastructure, business climate and speed to market. In Central Florida, they are here for the sunshine, too. Mostly, though, they arrive, stay and build because of the pipeline – the talent pipeline.
As Central Florida continues to diversify and attract businesses, the region has succeeded in identifying what it takes to create and maintain a talent pipeline that can compete with any area of the country. By looking at skills and certifications, technological innovations, student access to workplace and mentors, and alignment of standards of success and curriculum, Super Region entities have played a vital role in training the workforce of today and tomorrow.
“Talent is definitely an important issue when companies consider a location,” says Keith Norden, president and CEO of Team Volusia Economic Development Corp., which serves the Greater Daytona area. “We have to make sure, and they want to make sure, there is ample labor that can be identified to work in their facilities.”
A qualified talent pool enables companies to grow and reach their long-term goals. Having to look outside the market for talent is costly and defeats the purpose of being in a certain location in the first place, he cites.
Gray Swoope, Florida Secretary of Commerce and president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, says much of the credit for Florida’s strong talent pipeline goes to the state’s excellent educational institutions and effective workforce training programs. Florida’s universities, medical schools, technical and trade institutes, and numerous private colleges and universities work closely with the business community to build programs that meet the needs of state industries. They’re also among the nation’s top performers in research and development and commercialization of technologies. Swoope also notes these customized training programs and incentives help companies become operational and profitable in less time and with lower costs.
As the world rapidly advances to a more global and complex economy of constantly changing jobs, job skills and workforce demands, communities must develop an education system that is intrinsically linked to its economic development and workforce systems in order to be competitive and prosperous.
“Workforce availability and quality are at the top of the list of hot buttons for employers making decisions about where to locate and grow their businesses,” says Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO, Bradenton Area Economic Development. “From technical and soft skills, to the ability to communicate and work with peers in team settings, career seekers must be well equipped to compete for high-skill, high-wage jobs. They must be continuous learners who are professional, show up on time, display initiative and add value to businesses where they seek employment.”
One program that is helping prepare high school students for college and beyond is the Junior Achievement Academy for Leadership and Entrepreneurship at Oak Ridge High School in Orlando, which reopened in 2012 following a major renovation and expansion. A recent study shows JA Academy students outperformed their peers in a number of areas, including FCAT and reading benchmark scores and course grades. Developed by Junior Achievement of Central Florida and Orange County Public Schools, the program focuses on building economic insight and leadership talents while also teaching an entrepreneurial approach to help students capitalize on future career opportunities.
“We’re proud that the development of leadership and entrepreneurship skills is translating into multiple academic successes for our students,” says Kathy King, vice president of the JA Academy. “By taking a hands-on approach to learning, these achievements will result in real-world accomplishments.”
In addition to a rigorous curriculum, students are paired with business and community mentors who help guide them through career exploration and professional development. This gives them the opportunity to interact with business leaders in the community who will enhance the business and life skills the students learn at the Academy. Students experience an interactive classroom structure and experience a college campus feel, better preparing them for actual college life.
“We regularly see innovative partnerships between our K-12 and higher education leadership,” says Matt Cutler, vice president of Investor Relations and Development at the Tampa Bay Partnership, “and we appreciate the role that these leaders play in working with regional business leaders to address critical workforce and education issues.”
Cradle to Career Philosophy
Fortunately, the overall mindset in the Super Region is that education is the single most influential factor in ensuring children grow up to do as well or better than their parents. An educated community, many local leaders believe, is a healthier community.
Bob Brown, CEO of the Heart of Florida United Way (HFUW), is one of those people. He stresses that a high school student drops out of school every 26 seconds nationwide, and every dropout represents a major loss in economic productivity along with a significant reduction in the nation’s ability to compete globally. “These dropouts are 18 years in the making, which is why the United Way provides a cradle-to-career continuum of support throughout a child’s development,” he says. “By removing barriers that directly impede a child’s success (like hunger, homelessness, financial instability or lack of adult mentoring), we are helping to make sure the playing field is level for all kids.”
If the talent of its workforce fuels the economic engine of this region, it is critical that educational institutions, and their supporting communities, are preparing students to be successful in the 21st century.ÊBrown explains that the goal of the talent development pipeline and cradle-to-career continuum is for students who grow up in Central Florida to receive the education and experience that will enable them to enter the workforce with up-to-date skills.
The key is to be a place that develops, retains and attracts the type of skilled workforce that will help the region continue to be competitive in the world marketplace.
Another HFUW program, Together for Tomorrow, recruits volunteers to mentor and tutor students attending Title I schools – schools with a high percentage of students living in poverty.ÊMany of these students have barriers and challenges in their lives that impact their attendance, behavior, course performance and college/career readiness – all early warning indicators of student success. Together for Tomorrow volunteers act as role models in encouraging positive behavior, academic success and personal development in students.
“Mentors are able to talk about their careers, their education, their hobbies and so much more – thus opening the students’ eyes to a broader world,” says Brown. “These caring adults are helping students not only graduate from high school, but also helping them think about next steps in their post-secondary success.”
Right now, thanks to the concerted effort of many regional entities and forward-thinking leaders, Central Florida has a strong talent pipeline that continues to both lure existing businesses here and help local entrepreneurs realize their dreams. But as the workforce continues to become more complex and challenging, the Super Region will have to remain diligent in its efforts to create and maintain a local workforce that not only meets but also exceeds expectations.
“There is no single program or agency that can provide every support that teachers, students and businesses need,” says Brown. “Rather, it is only when a community is able to work together in a collaborative way, where all of our activities are mutually reinforcing, that we can have the positive impact we desire.”
Goodwill For Jobs
Goodwill Industries of Central Florida continues to expand its footprint with new retail stores, Donation Xpress Centers – and Job Connection Centers in Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake, Brevard and Volusia counties.
The nonprofit’s job centers offer assessment, training, interview coaching, resume writing and placement services that help people find meaningful work. In 2013, the centers served 33,000 individuals and filled 6,500 jobs. This fall, Goodwill is opening a Job Connection and Adult Learning Center in Orlando’s Pine Hills community, where 25 percent of residents live at or below the poverty level, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Goodwill serves those with barriers to employment, such as disabilities, limited work history, extended unemployment or a criminal background, along with veterans transitioning to civilian careers.
“A key piece of strengthening our region’s workforce is helping people build the skills that are in demand by local employers,” comments Bill Oakley, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Florida. “Goodwill’s partnerships with hundreds of companies allow us to take the pulse of the job market to identify available positions and what skills are needed for those roles. We help clients develop those skills and communicate them to employers. Some decide to continue their education in a growing field like health care or [information technology], and we assist them with achieving those goals.”
All of which translates to a substantial economic impact when Central Floridians shop or donate at Goodwill. Every 24 pounds of donations provides services that help one person get a job to support themselves and their families.
Economic food for thought.