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Maybe not No. 1, but trying

I know this sounds odd, but a just-released survey shows that Florida’s workforce is No. 1 among all 50 states.

The ranking came in CNBC’s fourth annual America’s Top States for Business rankings — a study of all 50 states that examines 10 different categories, including workforce, to measure each state’s ability to attract businesses.

The No. 1 ranking comes despite the fact that:

n Our unemployment rate is still in the double digits locally and statewide, ranking Florida among the highest nationally along with California, Michigan, Rhode Island and Nevada.

n Job creation is only starting to ramp up again with 36,782 people still unemployed in Manatee and Sarasota counties.

n Employers often are still faced with the fact that there are not enough skilled people to fill the jobs they do have.

“I’m astonished,” were the first words from Peter Straw, head of the Sarasota Area Manufacturing Association, when he heard of the ranking.

But looking at the situation a little closer, it might not seem that bizarre.

Florida’s Ready to Work program, a career readiness program many unemployed are using to re-evaluate their job skills and learn how to market themselves to new industries, is a “bright star in the firmament,” Straw says.

Job seekers use the program to improve their math, reading and reading comprehension skills and make themselves more marketable to employers who can see they are motivated and able to improve.

Straw and others like Sally Hill, with the Suncoast Workforce Board, are worried about the gap that exists between the skills needed in the workforce and the skills people have.

“There is still a definite skills gap between what is needed by employers and what skills employees have,” Straw said. “Even with companies getting ready to hire, they find the people don’t qualify for jobs they are applying for.”

Even people who are employed often don’t have necessary skills, Straw said, pointing to a recent study that shows 40 percent of manufacturing employees across the country don’t have the skills needed for their jobs.

Hill says it’s hard to keep up with the demand of what employers need and the ever-changing needs of the workplace.

But the regional workforce agencies like the Suncoast Workforce Board are developing programs to improve skills and help fill in that gap.

With 11.9 percent unemployment, many in Manatee are going back to school for more training or reassessing their skills and taking a new career direction, especially as some of their careers have disappeared.

While Florida is headed in the right direction in creating a more advanced skilled workforce, it still has a ways to go.

I’d give it a “B” for effort.

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