Closing the Talent Gap (2010)

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Florida faces an emerging Talent Gap — an urgent shortage of a resource as basic as food, more valuable than gold, and in higher global demand than oil. This crisis in human capital represents a vast and growing unmet need for a highly skilled and educated workforce — our state’s most important resource for driving sustainable economic development and a diversified economy.

In the next two decades, new innovations will be developed to address the world’s most pressing environmental, medical, and transportation challenges. The site of those breakthroughs will reap the economic rewards of leadership. But without a thriving base of knowledge workers, that place may not be Florida. The time to build Florida’s future workforce is now, and education must be its foundation.

And while predicting the future of such economic development is difficult, one fact is certain. The leading companies and clusters that will emerge over the next 20 years will locate themselves wherever they have access to a top-quality workforce. Unfortunately, Florida today is not leading the race in providing its workers with the professional skills and education they need to compete and succeed in the economy of this new century.

How big is the problem? Consider: Of every 100 Florida students today, only 76 will graduate from high school, only 51 will attend college, and only 32 will earn a baccalaureate degree within six years. Compounding this, only about half of those earning degrees in the science and math fields identified with the global innovation economy choose to stay in the state more than eight years. And the situation will only worsen as many of our state’s current class of highly educated professionals near retirement age — we face a changing of the guard with too few replacements.

Simply put, the future of Florida’s economy hangs in the balance. Every student requiring remedial training costs Florida businesses an estimated, annual average of $459 per worker, or more than $3.5 billion per year, and every high school drop-out loses a quarter of million dollars in direct lifetime earnings and ultimately costs taxpayers up to $288,000 in direct payments and additional costs of health care, public safety, and other social programs. Furthermore, every student who doesn’t graduate from college costs the state an additional $6 million in lifetime economic output, and that’s staggering when one considers that, to reach the education level of the 10 most productive states within the next two decades, Florida will need 4.5 million adults with baccalaureate degrees (1.3 million more than expected at current attainment rates) and, within five years, will need at least 100,000 more science and technology professionals than we are on track to produce. In summary, every Floridian pays greatly each time a student slips through our collective educational grasp.

So how do we begin to address this conundrum? To say Florida’s talent production system is a complex web of interrelated entities, programs, and goals would be a gross understatement. Fortunately, Workforce Florida, Inc., the state’s public-private partnership in charge of overseeing the administration of the state’s workforce policy, programs and services, has established a lens through which Florida’s talent production system can be described, evaluated, and, ultimately, improved: the “Talent Supply Chain.” Currently, Workforce Florida defines that chain as:

A system of resources and infrastructure that prepares people, on a lifelong basis, to advance the needs of enterprises of all scales, sizes and sectors. Like other supply chains, excellence is achieved through customer satisfaction, on-time delivery, reliability, foresight and seamless coordination and process improvement among and between all participants in the chain. In Florida,  people are participant-owners in the chain, by exerting their own transformative abilities to learn, apply knowledge and create wealth.

In Closing the Talent Gap, we operationalize this definition by describing our vision of Florida’s Talent Supply Chain, its key elements, and related issues and recommendations.