Central Florida is home to a young, well-educated and diverse workforce, but when it comes to the technology, manufacturing and construction sectors, coordinated and sustained efforts are required to meet growing workforce needs.
With major growth in its manufacturing, technology and construction sectors, Central Florida continues to blossom as a diverse economic region fueled by innovation, an entrepreneurial spirit and strategic partnerships. However, the future success of these sectors hinges on workforce development and whether or not the region’s growing talent pool can be aligned to the needs of these industries.
“The underlying factor in the economic success of every community is the availability of a well-trained and skilled workforce,” said Pamela Nabors, president and CEO of CareerSource Central Florida. “Every business needs a diverse talent pipeline to succeed and help the local economy thrive.”
Nabors, who works in unison with CareerSource Brevard and CareerSource Volusia, says new technologies and opportunities in these industries have sparked a vibrant debate around traditional college versus technical education. Within these sectors, which overlap as far as skill sets are concerned, exists an array of career opportunities stretching far beyond minimum wage jobs.
“If you expose middle and high school kids to the value of these industries beyond what they may think,” she said, “you pique their interest and expand their career options. This message must also reach parents and guidance counselors.”
CareerSource partners with K-12 public schools throughout the region to conduct summer youth intern programs, which focus on identifying placements in these sectors and what might be out there beyond traditional jobs. It also partners with local chambers and businesses to put kids in spaces where they can be exposed to different opportunities.
“I’m certainly not knocking bachelor’s degrees, but you don’t necessarily need one to have a good career, and some young adults have no choice but to go from high school directly into the workforce,” said Nabors. “The good news is there are options to acquiring education and skill sets within these industries.”
CareerSource recently conducted a study with UCF on talent supply from 58 academic partners — including trade schools, certificate programs, technical schools and traditional universities in nine counties — and found there are approximately 250,000 students in the academic pipeline, with 75,000 of them credentialed at some level.
“The key is aligning these 75,000 to sectors of interest,” said Nabors. “We need to reach out to stakeholders, including regional manufacturers, construction and tech companies, and local career development organizations. Let’s match these individuals with the companies requiring their skill sets.”
Attracting Young Talent
An entire generation of manufacturing and construction professionals is getting ready to retire, and the ability to attract the next generation into these fields is critical to their growth and success in the region.
“Kids may not realize they can become production and 3D printer technicians, computer
programmers, IT experts, welders, construction managers, engineers and more.” – Lynda Weatherman
Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, takes an “image and attract” strategy when working with local businesses and institutions to build a sustainable talent pipeline. By showing kids how dynamic these industries are, as well as the diverse career opportunities they provide, interest is heightened.
“We have the schools and businesses to train and attract talent, but we need to shine a light on the various jobs available in these sectors,” explained Weatherman. “Kids may not realize they can become production and 3D printer technicians, computer programmers, IT experts, welders, construction managers, engineers and more.”
Weatherman stresses that a critical aspect of economic development is also attracting businesses considering relocation. “Having a strong workforce is a deciding factor in their decision process,” she said. “They look at support infrastructure and quality of life, but they need talented people.”
Businesses Get Involved
In order to help build the workforce they desire, companies need to be proactive in not only recruiting, but also in connecting with local resources. Nabors encourages businesses to connect with CareerSource and create internship opportunities to get younger people interested in what they do. The goal is to grow internships in the region. She also encourages businesses to get their employees involved with Junior Achievement and other local organizations that have career awareness or job shadowing programs.
“If someone has soft skills (work ethic, enthusiasm, etc.), we can screen for these and work on crafting additional skills,” she said. “Just because someone doesn’t have a degree in manufacturing or technology doesn’t mean they can’t make great employees with a little training.”
The EDC of Florida’s Space Coast also works with local companies and schools to engage young people. Incorporating STEM courses in middle and high school is important, but having kids experience manufacturing or technical operations first-hand is effective. “When they visit these businesses and see how cool it is to manufacture something or create an advanced technology, they want in,” said Weatherman.
Organizations such as CareerSource Central Florida and the EDC of Florida’s Space Coast have a foundational goal to develop a technical workforce. The fact the region is aware of the need for a robust talent pipeline in these sectors is an important foundation to build on because consensus is critical for this pipeline to exist.
Nabors sees our regional workforce resources as arrows pointing in different directions that need to be pointing in the same direction, or at least in a couple of specific, more defined ones. “The key is getting everyone working together,” she said. “We need a common understanding across all sectors — government, education, independent, non-profit and business — that the strength of our workforce represents our community’s competitive edge.”
Weatherman agrees the region’s recognition of the challenge is important. She believes local universities such as Florida Tech, Florida Institute of Technology, Embry Riddle, UCF and others are doing a great job educating young people in technology, engineering and manufacturing. Connecting them to these growing industries, and keeping them here is where the rubber meets the road.
“Every community has workforce challenges, but it’s the ones who make a concerted effort to educate, connect, retain and recruit talent that overcome these challenges,” said Weatherman. “As a region, we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”