FutureMakers Coalition Hosts Annual Champions Meeting Virtually

By September 23, 2020 News

Goal to transform Southwest Florida’s workforce

The 2020 Annual FutureMakers Coalition Champions Meeting was successfully held virtually on Thursday, September 17 with more than 100 participants online and over 200 Facebook Live views.

The theme of this year’s meeting was 55%: A working revolution.

The FutureMakers Coalition aims to transform Southwest Florida’s workforce by increasing the proportion of working age adults with college degrees, workforce certificates, industry certifications and other high-quality credentials to 55 percent. The Coalition has grown to over 300 FutureMakers representing business, education, government, nonprofits, philanthropy, residents, and students across Glades, Hendry, Collier, Lee, and Charlotte counties.

Chaired by Chris Vernon, partner, Vernon Litigation Group, this year’s event included an overview and update of the Coalition’s work, updates on Southwest Florida’s Talent Hub and a special report on how COVID has affected our region by Workforce Now. Douglas M. VanOort, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors, NeoGenomics, Inc. served as the event’s keynote speaker and nationally renowned author and TED talk speaker Dan Pallotta joined in for a Q&A with FutureMakers Coalition Director Tessa LeSage.

“Transforming Southwest Florida’s workforce is critical. And we’re fortunate to have the Coalition’s leadership for this transformation to create a more sustainable economy and a higher quality of life throughout our community,” said VanOort. “The next decade will see huge changes in science and technology in our society – even right here in our own community. The FutureMakers Coalition has an opportunity to shape that change and make our community an even better place for our families. We are very proud to be a supporting partner.”

NeoGenomics currently employs about 120 MDs and PhDs. VanOort said they hope to add over 300 jobs in Southwest Florida over the next three years as they continue to grow.

“It’s a challenge to find employees with the skills we need in Southwest Florida. It’s relatively easy to hire the talent we need in Silicon Valley or Southern California. Not so much here,” he said. “To really be successful, we need to create a skilled workforce right here in Southwest Florida. We are going to try to do just that.”

NeoGenomics recently invested $75,000 to cultivate a partnership with the FutureMakers Coalition and support their process for systems change along the cradle-to-career pathway to meet their goal. This funding leverages the Coalition’s Lumina and Kresge foundations national designation of FutureMakers Coalition-Southwest Florida as a Talent Hub.

In his virtual address, Pallotta discussed the nonprofit sector and their challenges on how they operate vs. the for-profit sector.

“We’ve silenced the nonprofit sector saying: ‘You can’t advertise to the public because it costs too much money.’ We don’t build wants and desires in the nonprofit sector like it’s done in the for-profit sectors,” he said. “How do we create a community of caring like we have a community of consumption? M&M and Mars spends a billion dollars a year for kids to demand chocolate. But we spend nothing to get kids to have a demand to give to charity.”

Pallotta said the answer is in letting nonprofits innovate and have the available spending they need to grow in the areas they need to in order to be successful and solve social issues. FutureMakers Coalition is working to do just that with the 55% goal.

“Empower and liberate the nonprofit world and let them use the same tools Bezos, Apple and Tesla are using,” he said.

LeSage also announced that the FutureMakers Coalition has secured a $50,000 challenge grant from the The Elsa & Peter Soderberg Charitable Foundation Inc. for the Talent Hub efforts at FGCU and FSW with the goal of reducing barriers to bringing back identified stop-out students, many who left school just a few credits short of earning a degree.

“The Soderberg Foundation challenge grant creates an opportunity to leverage our Talent Hub efforts and significantly increase the number of credentialed workers added to the workforce pool in the short-term by targeting Southwest Floridians who started school but didn’t finish,” said LeSage. “We know who they are. We must raise at least $50K in order to access this grant and remove financial barriers so returning students can complete that last mile and become part of the skilled workforce. This is a fantastic investment for any entity or individual interested in making an immediate, life-changing impact supporting our economy in these unprecedented times.”

FGCU has launched a Return to the Nest initiative that offers personalized coaching, navigation and financial assistance for stop-out students to return to finish their degrees. According to data, Southwest Florida has 40,000 stop-outs, a captive audience who can finish what they started, fill in-demand jobs and become the qualified workforce we need.

“FGCU’s Return to the Nest is a perfect fit for learners that previously earned college credits, but haven’t graduated; we have programs for everyone,” said FGCU President Dr. Mike Martin. “We’ve got to work to get our stop-out students to finish the credentials they need to succeed and help our economy and encourage them to stay here in Southwest Florida.”

Florida College Access Network Executive Director Charleitta Richardson announced the new Talent Strong initiative for the State of Florida and shared data illustrating the changing demographics among the State’s workforce to require a focus on equity to meet employer demands. She touted community partnerships, like the FutureMakers Coalition, and a focus on equitable access and opportunity as two of the key conditions needed to succeed.

LeSage shared FutureMakers Coalition’s equity imperative, developed in direct response to Southwest Florida’s education outcome disparities, and the FutureMakers Equity Action Team’s conversations about structural racism and implicit bias, both efforts critical to reaching the 55 percent goal, creating a stronger economy and better future for Southwest Florida.

“We have to notice the racial inequities in outcomes and experiences, name the specific racial/ethnic groups experiencing the equity gaps and have open and honest discussions,” Richardson said.

In 2020, FutureMakers has held these conversations, reaching more than 500 in our region.

To close out the virtual meeting, Workforce Now, a research initiative that studies the regional workforce and education gave an update to their Outcomes Report including where the region was before Covid-19 vs. now and an overview of the impact, industry and structural changes, where we are in terms of recovery and opportunities ahead.

Workforce Now is comprised of researchers from Florida Gulf Coast University, Hodges University and Florida SouthWestern State College, all FutureMakers Coalition partners.

“Covid-19 pandemic is an unprecedent crisis that disrupted the labor market in the region and in the country,” Amir B. Ferreira Neto, PhD, Assistant Professor of Economics, Interim Director, Regional Economic Research Institute, Lutgert College of Business, Florida Gulf Coast University. “In spite of this disruption, the crisis also created opportunities to improve the skillset of workforce in the region such as the high-skill rapid credentials being offered at post-secondary institutes in Southwest Florida. The recovery of the pandemic is still uncertain in terms of time, shape and form. While we are seeing an increase in confidence from business executives as the economy opens up, we need to continue to address and improve consumer confidence for faster and sustainable recovery.

The full study can be downloaded at fgcu.edu/wfn

The Champions Team plays a pivotal role in the Coalition’s success. Team members include regional leaders who have the ability to create a stronger workforce and vibrant economy by improving cradle-to-career opportunities for students, offering job training and certifications, employee educational incentives and more.

The FutureMakers Coalition encourages businesses to join and invest in sustaining this community-changing initiative by visiting https://www.futuremakerscoalition.com or emailing Tessa LeSage at [email protected].