Strategies for closing the skills gap

Florida is not the only state to adopt strategies that help narrow the skills gap by aligning training programs with the skills needed for high demand jobs. According to an article in an October edition of USA Today, a homebuilder needing masons in New Jersey had to look outside the state for workers even though the August unemployment rate was 6.6 percent. In 2012, the state's labor department and community colleges joined forces with the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, the largest employer group in the state. That partnership resulted in a training curriculum responsive to the workforce needs of employers.

Similar to New Jersey, Florida's August unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, yet employers continue to have difficulty finding workers with the right skills. To address that challenge, federal funds are allocated primarily from the U.S. Department of Labor to the states and then to regional workforce boards. The workforce boards use those funds to provide CareerSource customers with either intensive services or skills training in targeted occupations in growing industries. Each quarter, workforce boards' "targeted occupations" lists are reviewed for relevancy by businesses and other community partners and those lists are ultimately reviewed and approved by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Taking skills training a step further, CareerSource Suncoast's Skills Development Council reviews labor market statistics regularly to build an ongoing process to narrow the skills gap in Manatee and Sarasota counties. This Council's mission is to identify and address the skills development needs of the regional workforce, employers and our community partners. Their latest research led to the decision to focus on four super sectors -- construction, health science, information technology, and manufacturing. They also took a micro approach and concentrated on one industry for a model that could be replicated for other industry sectors.

"Regional construction was one of the industries hardest hit

by the recession. Employment had peaked in September 2006 with 32,400 jobs and dropped to 14,900 in February 2010, losing 17,500 jobs. This industry has regained one-fifth of those jobs," said Rebecca Rust, chief economist with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Bureau of Labor Market Statistics. "Construction is forecasted to grow about 5 percent annually from today to 2021."

A new survey among Suncoast construction-related employers and trade associations indicated that 90 percent of the respondents plan to increase their workforce over the next year, yet the majority said they have had difficulty finding workers.

The top three skills identified by respondents as important were basic math (64 percent), accurate measuring (63 percent), and basic oral and written communications skills (66 percent). Of those skills, measuring (25 percent) and communication skills (27 percent) were considered "most important." Understanding customer satisfaction principles (44 percent) was also considered most important. Further, the respondents agreed that the local education system prepares high school (20 percent) and technical/college students (34 percent) to meet workforce needs.

Businesses, educators, and other community partners that serve on the Skills Council will use the survey data to carry forward strategies being developed to reduce the skills gap in our community. If you are a construction-related business and are interested in completing the Construction Skills Gap Survey, please visit https://surveymonkey.com/s/2014 constructionskillssurvey.

Ted Ehrlichman, President and CEO of CareerSource Suncoast, a non-profit dedicated to providing education and tools for employers and job seekers, writes about workforce issues.