Good Jobs for All Means Investing in Florida’s Workforce Colleges

By: Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson, Guest Columnist, Pensacola News Journal

As the president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, my job is to listen to the concerns and needs of Florida employers and then share them with legislators and our governor. One of the biggest concerns I hear is that employers have jobs to fill, yet they cannot find all the talent they need.

Quarter after quarter, results from the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Index Survey show finding qualified employees as the top priority for employers across Florida. Right now, right here in Florida, despite a near record low unemployment, we have 261,600 jobs looking for people, and 374,000 people looking for jobs.

Workforce colleges are part of the solution to closing the skills gap, and Floridians need the legislature to follow Governor Scott’s lead and fully invest in the Florida College System.

To help close the gap, higher education institutions and workforce colleges are converting learners into earners. Florida’s universities, research institutions and career academies are preparing students with higher education for the workforce of tomorrow. Meanwhile, workforce colleges are training students – many of whom are economically disadvantaged, working adults and first-generation-in college students – with skills that match Florida jobs.Between now and 2030, two million more jobs will be needed in Florida. In fact, by 2030, 60 percent of jobs will require a post-secondary degree or advanced training.

And innovation and disruptive technologies are increasing the need for stronger skills. Many of these new jobs will require a shift in the skills and competencies of Florida’s workforce.

Simply put, talent is quickly replacing the tax incentive as Florida’s best economic development tool. But with lawmakers threatening to limit access to Florida’s workforce colleges and to cut funding that helps best match student interests with the right job skill training, you might not think improving educational opportunities in Florida is a priority of everyone in the Florida Legislature.

Job creators need our state legislature to put the long-term needs of Florida ahead of short-term fixes, and properly invest in Florida’s College System. Florida’s 28 workforce colleges develop and expand programs and certifications that directly speak to the workforce employment gaps in their region and produce the training and skills necessary to fill the voids.

Limiting investments and placing arbitrary caps on the number of students who can enroll in a workforce college will stifle a region’s ability to grow its labor force and prevent it from being a viable option for companies to relocate and call Florida home.

Florida should continue to strategically align the higher education systems to prepare for Florida’s future growth. By empowering Florida’s workforce colleges to foster innovative programs and certifications for targeted skills development, we can ensure the workforce pipeline will remain strong.

If you’re reading this and you want your kids and grandkids to live and work in Florida, please call your state legislator and ask them to do the right thing and fully fund Florida’s workforce colleges.

Mark Wilson is the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at mwilson@flchamber.com.