Manatee port, school officials consider training for new port firms

skennedy@bradenton.comDecember 20, 2013 

PORT MANATEE -- In an effort to try to meet the workforce needs of new businesses coming to Port Manatee, officials representing the port and their school district counterparts met Thursday to brainstorm ways to create a broader, more prepared workforce.

Port Manatee Chair Carol Whitmore led a delegation of port and county officials to the meeting at school district offices. Also attending were representatives of the Suncoast Workforce Board.

The group hoped to find ways to ensure a fully trained labor force is ready to work when a bevy of newly recruited companies arrive at the port.

Manatee County School Superintendent Rick Mills described the meeting as "very productive."

"I think everybody in the room was not only positive, but very excited about it," Mills said. "I think it's a good step in cross coordination, synchronization and greater outcomes for drawing business here and increasing employment opportunities."

One surprise: County economic development officials lacked data the school district maintains on what students are studying, and what certificates they hold, Mills said.

At the next meeting, the school district will pres

ent an overview of its data, Mills said.

"In large part, that's our existing workforce," he noted.

Karen Stewart, Manatee County's economic development program manager, was glad for the chance to chat.

"It's just a chance to open communication about the type of skills necessary for the community to attract businesses, and to ensure we have a workforce that is ready," she said.

"We need to look at skill gaps that might exist, and develop a strategy to fill the gaps," she added.

Manatee County Neighborhood Services Director Cheri Coryea said she would like the school board and Manatee Technical Institute to be part of a bigger initiative to attract businesses here.

Noting that the port has begun to draw big businesses that offer hundreds of new job possibilities in maritime-related trades, coordination with the school district is an essential element, said Port Manatee Executive Director Carlos Buqueras.

"We need a trained labor force ahead of time," he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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