NEWS-PRESS: Collaboration is Key for workforce development

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By Mike Swindle, Guest columnist

Hendry County Schools Workforce Development and Career and Technical Education Programs are booming. That has not always been the case. As early as three years ago, the district was considering closing the Workforce Development Program due to declining enrollment. The Hendry County School District ultimately decided to hire me, a Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher to lead the reinvention of the Workforce Programs.

Bringing key stakeholders to the table to ensure the vision and needs of local workforce and training was a crucial step in the right direction. Local business leaders were eager to provide specific details that outlined the path workforce training needed to follow. The collaboration leads to buy-in and vested interest from the community in the success of our training programs. The conversation revealed we needed to expand our scope to provide a wider variety of training that produced certificates that were valuable to the workforce.

As a result, we added industrial mechanics, certified nursing assistants, construction technologies, security guard and forklift training to the established line-up of welding, GED and ESOL programs. The programs were very well received and we have grown our student count and reportable hours exponentially. Growing the programs also means increased revenue from the Department of Education. The increased revenue allows the sustainability of our programs as well as continued growth.

Without the support and buy-in from the stakeholders, the recovery would not have been possible. There were several businesses that donated funds and equipment to ensure success. FutureMakers Coalition partners, including the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, was a key factor. They brought much-needed funding that enabled the physical movement in the positive direction. For three consecutive years the funding has been used in strategic areas to ensure program and student success.

The financial support was key, but just as important was the regional collaboration the coalition facilitated. Being a part of a regional movement has allowed the use of data to drive decisions and pinpoint barriers that stood in the way of our residents that needed training, but was unavailable for various reasons. The collaboration also paved the way for greater opportunities for our students. We now have dual enrollment agreements in place with Ft. Myers Technical College and we are crafting another with Itech in Immokalee. These dual enrollment agreements will provide a vast array of programs that are simply not possible for a small district.

Bringing new opportunities to the students and residents of Hendry County is transforming our workforce in real time. Providing awareness of the multitude of pathways available has become a mission within itself. Once again, the FutureMakers Coalition stepped up to the plate. They have made it possible for Hendry County Schools to have a dedicated CTE counselor that provides multiple layers of contact between students and the opportunities that awaits.

Our goal is to diminish a large number of individuals between 18 and 24 years of age with no post-secondary training. We will create a clear and tangible pathway with quality local training options that lead to a “career within a year”. This very focused mission is closely aligned with the FutureMakers Coalition goal of increasing the region’s percentage of college graduates and residents with advanced certifications and credentials by 2025.

With increased partnerships, buy-in, regional collaboration and collective leadership, the mission of the FutureMakers Coalition will be successful. Hendry County’s workforce training transformation speaks for itself. We are proud to be FutureMakers!

Mike Swindle is a Commissioner at Hendry County Board of County Commissioners, Hendry County Schools Director of Workforce & Adult Education, and a FutureMaker’s Guiding Team member


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NEWS-PRESS: Get Involved with the FutureMakers Coalition

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Assessing and understanding the workforce landscape in Southwest Florida helps the FutureMakers Coalition align education and training opportunities with the region’s employment needs. In doing so, we create opportunities for economic development so businesses can start-up, grow, and relocate to areas where talent is abundant. Accordingly, the coalition relies on the talent of a robust Data Team, including business partners and agencies, as well as the WorkforceNow* team from Florida Southwestern State College, Hodges University, and Florida Gulf Coast University.

The most recent WorkforceNow report indicated 6,578 current employment gap positions for Southwest Florida, signifying a 30 percent increase (or 1,505 positions) compared to the report published from 2017 to 2018. The top five employment gaps include retail supervisors and salespersons, maintenance and repair workers, supervisors for food preparation and serving, landscaping and groundskeepers, construction trades supervisors, and administrative supervisors, where the median wage varies from $11.15 per hour to $20.10 per hour for these top employment gaps. So how to do we grow more high-paying Assessing and understanding the workforce landscape in Southwest Florida helps the FutureMakers Coalition align education and training opportunities with the region’s employment needs. In doing so, we create opportunities for economic development so businesses can start-up, grow, and relocate to areas where talent is abundant. Accordingly, the coalition relies on the talent of a robust Data Team, including business partners and agencies, as well as the WorkforceNow* team from Florida Southwestern State College, Hodges University, and Florida Gulf Coast University. The most recent WorkforceNow report indicated 6,578 current employ jobs in the region?

We know only 25 percent of all job openings were for occupations defined as STEM occupations, while 75 percent were for non-STEM occupations in the Summer of 2018. STEM occupations with a minimum education of bachelor’s degree had the largest supply gap in Southwest Florida, with 49 percent of the total gap for the region and with a $35.46 median wage. Healthcare practitioners and technical occupation group had the most job openings and represented 43 percent of all STEM openings in Southwest Florida. This presents an opportunity for us to work together with businesses to create career pathways and fill jobs.

Information like this helps the FutureMakers Coalition move toward our shared goal of transforming Southwest Florida’s workforce. As coalition partners, we rely on data for continuous improvement and to increase credential attainment that aligns with regional workforce needs. We use data to apply for grants and identify what works. Simply put, all initiatives aim to develop a workforce with the credentials and skills businesses need.

Here are just a couple of examples:

After regional businesses said that foundational skills training is a needed, the coalition responded. The Professional Effectiveness Certificate program was developed by Hodges University with the financial support of FutureMakers partners. Coalition partners, Chico’s, Arthrex, CareerSource, Lee Health, and the Immokalee Foundation, worked to pilot the program.

Similarly, there has been a persistent employment gap for Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) for many health care providers, including Lee Health. A system alignment project was designed by the FutureMakers Coalition partners and implemented through recruitment events, gap funding, organizational coordination and data sharing, and direct interview opportunities for employers. Results have been impressive with 80% of Lee Health’s original 90 vacancies filled and 90% of CNA students successfully placed in jobs.

These programs and projects have been helpful to identify opportunities to align education-workforce systems that can be scaled and sustained with on-going funding and support from the region.

The key to success for workforce development is for businesses to get involved in the coalition. When businesses identify workforce needs, the coalition works together to find solutions. Workforce development is driven by businesses’ involvement and participation in a dynamic and changing labor market. Employers and businesses have a significant role and responsibility to invest in the regional workforce development in order to close the employment gaps and assist the future of talent development and human capital. We look forward to seeing you, business leaders, become FutureMakers partners!

We are proud FutureMakers.

Aysegul Timur, Ph.D., is Assistant Vice President, Strategic Initiatives, Strategy and Program Innovation at Florida Gulf Coast University and a FutureMaker. Brent Kettler is Director of Economic Research and Strategy for En-Site, Inc. and a FutureMaker

BUSINESS OBSERVER: Southwest Florida college working to bridge the skills gap

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Hodges University is developing something any employer should covet: A program that teaches foundational — and soft — skills to a variety of employees.

John Meyer considers himself the poster boy for Hodges University. He left college in New Jersey two credits shy of graduation to become an automotive technician.

After moving to Southwest Florida and hitting the advancement ceiling by age 33, he enrolled at Hodges — then called International College — to complete his bachelor’s in accounting in 1999, and a master’s in finance and marketing in 2000, all while getting grease under his fingernails during the day.

Nearly two decades later, Meyer is president of Hodges University. The school, with locations in Fort Myers and Naples, focuses on degree completion — perfectly tracking Meyer’s educational stages.

Noted for his expertise in business and economics, Meyer, previously dean of the School of Business and Technology at Florida SouthWestern State College, was named president in December 2017. Now he’s guiding Hodges in a new direction. That includes an emphasis on developing foundational skills, which he says form a wide crevice between an employee’s technical skills and the ability to function effectively in the workplace.

Meyer, toward that goal, is spearheading the launch of a professional credential program. Dubbed the Professional Effectiveness Certificate program, it’s for companies of any size to offer employees training in foundational (or soft, in some cases) skills gaps surveys show are in demand. These include adaptability, business understanding, communication, customer service, judgment, organization, proactivity and being a team player.

The PEC program is customizable, portable and adaptable to specific industry needs.

“Workforce development is an area I am very passionate about, and I believe very firmly that it’s almost a dirty word sometimes,” says Meyer. “It conjures images of greasy fingernails, dirty uniforms, low wages and long hours, but really nothing could be further from the truth. Workforce means any kind of a job that requires any skills to do, all the way up to medical doctors and CPAs or lawyers. It’s all workforce.”

Although technical education has advanced, Meyer says imparting practical knowledge has failed to keep pace. Basic societal behavioral training necessary for interaction between co-workers and with customers once inherent by the time students graduate high school is now lacking, and it manifests itself on the manufacturing floor, in the office and in customer-facing occupations, exacerbating an already tight labor market.


WGCU Interview: Exploring the Current State of Southwest Florida’s Workforce

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On today’s show, we’re going to dig into the 6th annual Southwest Florida Workforce study, conducted annually by Workforce Now, that’s a research initiative that studies the regional workforce. It’s comprised of researchers from Florida Gulf Coast UniversityHodges University, and Florida SouthWestern State College. The Workforce Study provides an overview of key information about local industries, occupations, employments gaps and projected job growth. It looks at things like which Southwest Florida occupations have the largest gaps between the number of workers demanded by employers and the available supply in the labor market? We’re joined today by two of the researchers behind the study: Dr. Christopher Westley is Professor of Economics, and Director, Regional Economic Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University, and Dr. Aysegul Timur is dean of the Johnson School of Business at Hodges University.

Click PLAY above to listen to the interview.