Workforce Development

Diversifying a technology-based economy requires new skills, and that’s where Workforce Development comes in.  Even the term workforce development is new to most of us operating outside human resources circles.  There are jobs available, plenty of people who need jobs, but not a lot that are qualified to fill them.  Across the nation, those in the business of hiring are looking at shortages, now and in the future, of people with the skills and training they can use, especially in new technologies and engineering.  In addition, once we hit this point where you can do everything from buy groceries to assemble complex machinery with little or no human interaction, there are fewer unskilled jobs and lower relative wages.  This is where Workforce Development comes in.

Developing, or training people for the types of jobs that need to be filled is the new approach to workforce programs.  Our local situation is a telling example, with even greater woes than the rest of the country as 7,000 highly talented, trained people face a certain end to their Shuttle jobs.  They don’t need new jobs, they need whole new careers.  Local workforce development in Brevard is now about securing the skills for jobs that may come here or are needed outside the county.  Much of the Shuttle workforce not endowed with highly sought-after technical degrees and certifications are being counseled to look at other fields like healthcare, IT and emerging energy sectors.

Two examples are Solar Power Installer and Wind Turbine Fabricator, which are making top jobs lists like Fast Company’s “10 Best Green Jobs.”  Much of the talent along the Space Coast can easily transition into them and other alternative energy positions.  According to the publication, those installing solar-thermal water heaters and roof-top solar panels can make up to $35 per hour and are looking at plenty of new opportunities, with projected job growth at more than 3000 percent over the next six years!  Wind power generation, which promises huge opportunities for technicians and manufacturing workers, is the fastest growing source of alternative energy and is also a target sector for regional economic development.

Leveraging Brevard

This talent draw for other industries is the one bright spot (for the community at least) in this era of mass layoffs.  The amazing, readily available talent pool gives Brevard some leverage in attracting new industry and government programs, not to mention federal and state funds that use local resources to assist the workforce.  Last year, Brevard Workforce secured more than $5 million in federal and state grants to survey the needs of businesses throughout the region, retrain the unemployed and those facing layoffs, and make the employment connections.

State and regional agencies that are focused on bringing in new industry and expanding existing business are working the angles too.  Pitches to companies across the globe are promoting the extraordinary pool of talent coming available on the eastern end of Florida’s High Tech Corridor.  It’s an advantage Florida, the region and Brevard have never had before, and hopes are that it will help give the region an edge in attracting new aerospace programs as well as other industries with growing workforce needs.

Real Estate and Development

Many point to real estate and development as the reason for the current economic gloom.  Real estate and the sectors that support it including development and construction are also arguably the hardest hit, and those with what many believe will be the longest road to stabilization. Real estate is now driven by a tiny market for building and buying, led largely by government contract opportunities in the commercial sector, and a meager group of home buyers in the residential sector. Real estate’s ‘new normal’ is survival mode.

Both commercial and residential developers are struggling nationwide, motivated more by keeping afloat and keeping people working rather than profit.  Real estate, once a major interest of investors, has a new, plague-like pall repelling all but the most financially stable. Builders and real estate agents are competing in much smaller markets, for much smaller pieces of the pie.  The situation at financial institutions, upon which so much of real estate decisions are based, are not helping much either.

Time to Re-Group

For commercial real estate professionals, last year was perhaps the most difficult year on record.  Industrial, office space and retail was fraught with issues, including less than optimum leasing environments, an almost non-existent investment market, financing challenges, corporate downsizing and falling retail numbers.  Government contracts are just about the only game in town for new opportunities, with the county and almost every city receiving some type of stimulus dollars for infrastructure and construction.

The Home Buyer Tax Credit is helping nationally, but with Brevard’s current and expected increase in its unemployment rate, the lack of personal income is trumping the benefits of tax credits for residential development.  Brevard ended 2009 with one of the higher residential sales rates in the state, but the loss of jobs at the Space Center threatens an unemployment rate somewhere near 14 percent and presents a bleak future.  The upcoming rounds of layoffs pose an even greater problem for the local commercial market, as it loses not just the salaries that pay home mortgages, but the subcontracts that feed office and industrial leases by Shuttle sub contractors.

Sifting for the Gold

Even bargain hunting in the commercial sector, unlike the housing market, is a challenge.  Lenders are holding off on foreclosures in hopes that economic recovery will help bring businesses back from loan defaults.  Since the government is not forcing these foreclosures of operating companies, banks don’t have the resources to provide any significant financing, nor are there any real deals on these troubled assets.  Without the financing and the bargains, the commercial real estate companies and developers have little to move.  The growing vacancies and low-cost properties that come from actual business failures are luring in a few businesses with growth potential, and are about the only things that are keeping the market afloat.

Health Care: Golden Opportunities

Healthcare expenditures in the U.S. topped $2.5 trillion in 2009, up from $1.9 trillion five years earlier, which then was about 16 percent of the Gross National Product.  Healthcare is big business today, a stark contrast to what it was 30 years ago before HMOs and the subsequent shift to for-profit status for the majority of healthcare organizations like hospitals and clinics.

More people are living longer, and needing healthcare services to do so.  There are more physicians, hospitals, pharmaceutical and home healthcare providers competing for massive medical expenditures, which are growing every year.  Science and technologies are advancing our life spans and subsequently the importance of the healthcare field to local economies.  In Brevard, half of our nationally recognized hospitals are among the county’s largest employers.

Competition is One Solution

Competition is growing among providers here and in communities all over the nation.  It is fed not just by quality care and referrals, but also by getting on key insurance provider lists and building reputations.  Doctors are becoming employees of larger healthcare organizations that provide not only the services and the facilities, but the insurance programs that fund them.  Health First in Brevard, for example, manages four hospitals, specialty services like home care and grief counseling, and includes insurance organizations with group and Medicare supplement programs.

More practices in and out of larger healthcare corporations are learning that advertising, sponsoring and marketing themselves to doctors and potential patients through professional networks and mass media is a part of practicing medicine.  Healthcare publications, radio programs, websites and mass media outlets are seeing new advertising dollars coming from physicians ranging from pediatrics to pain treatment.  The healthcare market has joined the ranks of consumer products and services suppliers in striving to be better, more efficient, and more well-known.

Conclusions about the New Normal

We’ve learned a lot over the past year about prioritizing, setting up responsive programs for new markets, and being patient for down markets to swing upward.  We have also begun to appreciate the importance of a talent upon which to build innovation and economic foundation.  Whether through insight or by reaction, the ‘New Normal’ strategies and approaches founded in responsiveness, patience and optimism should surely guide businesses and communities like Brevard to prosperity.