Wanted: More Jobs, Qualified Workers

CareerSource Florida has undergone a rebranding and refined its role. The task: effectively identify needs, quickly fill positions and ultimately enhance economic competitiveness.

This isn’t Albert Einstein’s E=mc² formula. But it does deal with space and time. Namely jobs. For a variety of industries, including STEM and other disciplines. Further, while Einstein’s famous theory of relativity took decades to evolve, the need for skilled workers and employment opportunities is here and now.

You might say CareerSource Florida=jobs². And then some.

In February, Florida led the way becoming the first state to achieve a unified brand and logo for all of its workforce development boards and career centers. The move was prompted by research that showed multiple names—Polk Works, Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance, Suncoast Workforce, et al.—resulted in confusion for both employers and job seekers. All are now under “CareerSource,” where brand alignment is designed to better connect businesses with job seekers and meet ever-increasing labor needs.

That was the simple part.

More difficult: Each of the state’s 24 regional workforce organizations and nearly 100 career centers must deal with mounting pressures—immediate needs vs. filling the talent pipeline—as job expansion continues. And with that new economic growth they must almost predict the unknown of industry reconfigurations and new job discoveries that are “moving at the speed of thought.”

So says Robin King, CEO of CareerSource Flagler/Volusia, whose office is coincidentally located a tire-iron toss from the Daytona International Speedway: “The more that our economic development partners are attracting new businesses, yes, there is urgency.

“What occupations do we need to start training for now, based on the jobs being brought, and what have we heard that might be brought in? … Jobs are being created that no one had thought of previously. There are no job descriptions for them.”

Pam Nabors agrees. The CEO of CareerSource Central Florida acknowledges the task isn’t easy by pointing to this paradox: While there are still unemployed workers in Metro Orlando, there are employers needing help.

In order to address this issue, guardians of the region’s labor pool have turned to analytics.

In partnership with the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, CareerSource offices in several Central Florida counties have recently wrapped up a talent/skills survey that included focus groups.

“The survey is of businesses having difficulties filling and keeping positions,” says Nabors. Aside from technology, entertainment, hospitality, health care and financial sectors were included.

Notably, a similar effort in Tampa Bay revealed important talent gaps in information technology and led to the creation of Grow Tampa Bay Tech. Initiatives now underway include the expansion of internship opportunities, an increase in technical training available for students, and practice labs that are integrating educational programs with business. Grow Tampa Bay Tech is part of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, which helped to spearhead the survey, and provides a central point of contact.

While analytics is a start, action is integral to any equation to bring about change, says Lisa Rice, president of CareerSource Brevard. Her example: The retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program set strategies in motion to both assist aerospace workers and their employers. “What we said when it all started was all hands on deck. Everything we can figure out to do, let’s give it a try,” says Rice, noting that continual industry shifts have only heightened the challenge.

For the first time, CareerSource Brevard is focusing on training prospective entrepreneurs, changing the mindset from “find a job” to “create my job.” Also, a career progression specialist is helping workers cope with job loss. A class called Five Steps aids the long-term unemployed with their approach to the job search. A CareerSource presence at Patrick Air Force Base targets defense contractors who were suddenly out of work because of government sequestration.

“One of the ways we’ve tried to approach this challenge is to think differently,” Rice says.

CareerSource Flagler/Volusia is leveraging partnerships. King points to the CareerSource’s statewide rebranding as a catalyst. A less-bureaucratic approach now enables each regional board to create its own targeted list of employment focuses, quickening response times in addressing local needs.

Among her pressing initiatives is to prepare a workforce for an old industry that has become new: advanced manufacturing. “This is not what some of us grew up with, where it was packaging and dirty,” she says. “It is high tech; it is clean; it’s individuals finding solutions to problems that are out there.”

A manufacturing academy for simulation training is in the works at Pine Ridge High School in Deltona. Daytona State College is another advanced-manufacturing partner. Also, entrepreneurs are being trained through a 10-session program called Startup Quest™. Trainees are unemployed and underemployed professionals and veterans with an interest in building a start-up business. Begun as a local pilot, the program expanded statewide in May 2013.

Likewise, at CareerSource Central Florida, most training dollars are leveraged through partnerships to address immediate needs. Through the University of Central Florida, an eight-week paid internship is available to job seekers with experience in STEM. A partnership with Valencia and Lake-Sumter State colleges trains and certifies 911 dispatchers, along with students who specialize in digital forensic investigations. Another training partnership at Valencia targets advance manufacturing and computer numerical control. Through a Second Harvest Food Bank’s Culinary Arts program, participants prepare for jobs in the food industry. Satellite offices have been opened at local nonprofit organizations such as Harvest Time International and Goodwill Industries of Central Florida.

At the same time, as with all CareerSource locales, attention is paid to the front end of the talent pipeline, Nabors cites. Her efforts range from raising the awareness in K-12 schools of under-publicized careers such as construction trades to internships intended to move youth from jobs to careers.

There are other factors at play, as well, such as promoting helpful free services to businesses and the concern of workforce mobility across county borders. Notably, “belt buckle” Polk County is a case study on the issue of transit. In both the Tampa Bay and Metro Orlando job markets, Polk supplies the third most number of workers, essentially knotting the Super Region. Such labor mobility only adds complexity because transportation must also be considered.

“Give me an issue and I can show you how it relates to workforce, because it absolutely does,” Rice concludes.
It’s not rocket science. Or the theory of relativity. Yet, for labor pools to run deep, talent pipelines to overflow and the Super Region’s economy to reach new heights, the numbers must add up.