Workforce study update shows need for emphasis on basic skills and demand for a range of training

CareerEdge report to the County Commission this week provides details about addressing the issues

Mireya Eavey talks with Todd Bowden, executive director of the Suncoast Technical College during the 2014 Convocation of Governments at the college. File photo
Mireya Eavey talks with Todd Bowden, executive director of career technical and adult education for the Sarasota County Schools, during the 2014 Convocation of Governments. File photo

The latest research undertaken about manufacturing skills gaps in Sarasota and Manatee counties shows that many students are unable to do basic math, read tape measures, communicate or interview well, and do not exhibit good work ethics, Mireya Eavey, executive director of CareerEdge Funders Collaborative, told the County Commission this week.

This was the first update of regional workforce needs since 2012, she reported to the board on Sept. 21.

As for technical skills: The manufacturers surveyed said they need workers trained in machining specialties involving wood; fabrication (including metals and wood); welding, especially aluminum; and industrial maintenance, she pointed out.

“Manufacturers were saying to us we have to start when [students are] younger” — in middle school and high school — to make sure they learn what they need to be successful in manufacturing jobs, Eavey added.

Following the 2012 study, which led to the creation of the Precision Machining Program at what is now Suncoast Technical College (STC) in Sarasota, she continued, a Communitywide Plan Committee has continued to meet, she told the commissioners. Already, its members have discussed the latest findings and have been asked to consider the areas of responsibility each would like to handle as the group works to address them.

That committee will meet again next month, she said, and a timeline will be developed to achieve the necessary goals.

Commissioner Christine Robinson — who won support from her board for the county to pay $330,000 for the Precision Machining Program equipment — asked for a copy of that timeline after it has been completed.

CareerEdge’s vision “is to be known as the region’s distinguished workforce development organization, promoting “economic prosperity through strong employer-labor and community partnerships,” a Sept. 21 memo to the County Commission explained.

“It’s a daunting list,” Robinson said of the survey results. “We were able to zero in last time on one program. … But this is all over the place.”

“This is the same thing that happened the first time,” Eavey reassured her, referring to the 2012 research. “That list was even broader.” However, it was evident that the training in precision machining was most important, she noted.

A graphic shows the three primary needs of manufacturers, as indicated by the updated workforce research. Image courtesy CareerEdge Funders
A graphic shows the three primary areas of manufacturers’ concerns regarding potential employees, as indicated by the updated workforce research. Image courtesy CareerEdge

In regard to the demand for technical skills identified this time, Eavey continued, STC and the State College of Florida — along with other area schools — have components of programs in place that also will help address the needs more quickly. No expensive machinery will be required this time, either, she pointed out.

For one example, Eavey continued, STC plans to start an industrial maintenance program at its Beneva Road campus, and it will offer one at the North Port STC after it opens in the 2017-18 school year.

Companies also are looking into better ways to encourage middle and high school students who do not plan to go to college to choose manufacturing careers, Eavey said. Young people need to know that they can invest $5,000 or $6,000 in a 12-month or 16-month program that will lead to good-paying jobs, she pointed out.

The 57 graduates of the Precision Machining Program — all of whom have found jobs — are earning salaries up to $42,000 a year right out of the program, she reported to the board.

The county’s 2016 Citizen Opinion Survey showed the majority of the 800 respondents said that manufacturing is the biggest factor that could contribute to economic growth in the county, Robinson told Eavey.

“Wow,” Eavey replied.

Another strategy CareerEdge has been pursuing, Eavey explained, is targeting 18- to 25-year-olds — who have the highest unemployment rate — to educate them about careers in plumbing. An annual salary of $54,000 in that trade is possible, she said, adding that a plumber who starts out working for a company can become an entrepreneur later, starting his or her own business.

A graphic shows results of CareerEdge efforts in 2015. Image courtesy CareerEdge
A graphic shows results of CareerEdge efforts in 2015. Image courtesy CareerEdge

CareerEdge has partnered with STC on the plumbing program, she noted, with 18 people enrolled. CareerEdge had sent postcards to students who had graduated from area high schools within the past five years to let them know about employment prospects if they underwent the training, she added.

Chair Al Maio told her that he was one of the commissioners who had a family background in construction; in his case, masons and carpenters. “I can tell you that I watched the plumbers that I grew up with or that I came in contact with over the last 30 years, and they and their spouses all had wonderful lives with great income.” His advice, he added, is “Find a plumber; marry a plumber,” eliciting laughter from Eavey and some of his colleagues.

Positive workforce initiatives

In a review of the results of CareerEdge’s efforts over the past five years, through December 2015, Eavey told the board that a total of $6.3 million has been invested in regional workforce development with an economic impact of $23.4 million through new wages and raises.

Altogether, 3,142 people were trained, she continued, 1,212 new jobs were created and 541 people were promoted.

A graphic shows more details about the internship program. Image courtesy CareerEdge
A graphic shows more details about the internship program. Image courtesy CareerEdge

This year, she noted, CareerEdge has invested about $100,000 in reimbursements to employers for hiring interns, at $1,500 per trainee. The odds are high that a company will end up hiring an intern who has worked for it, she said, because supervisors have had the opportunity to get to know the person and his or her abilities.

The organization also has provided training grants for manufacturers, she told the commissioners. A case study involving PGT Industries showed its retention rate for entry-level employees who had been trained through CareerEdge programs grew to the 94.5% mark. “Turnover is a big issue for companies,” she said.

CareerEdge is just beginning to work with construction firms, she continued, “because employers are having a very difficult time finding employees.”

The organization also hosts roundtable discussions with company representatives to determine what types of positions are needed in the community. One result of that approach, she said, was identifying that “we needed a risk management program.” As a result, the State College of Florida “has put together an associate’s degree [program] in risk management,” she pointed out.