The headline unemployment rate in Southwest Florida is 2.6% — meaning that for every 1,000 workers who want a job, only 26 cannot find one. Local employers struggle to find workers with the skills needed to fill in-demand positions. These challenges are not unique to Southwest Florida, but our working-age residents are further behind in their skills and lack the desirable credentials required to meet employers’ needs. We must create solutions that help job seekers attain these preferred qualifications, secure well-paying jobs and advance their careers. Eliminating inequities will increase the resilience of our regional economy and change lives.
Powered by a $22.9 million award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Good Jobs Challenge, Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in partnership with FutureMakers Coalition at Collaboratory will develop and implement the Southwest Florida Equitable Jobs Pipeline. The grant results from eight years of laying the foundation for this game-changing investment in workforce development. Only 32 recipients out of 509 applications were awarded American Rescue Plan-funded grants, making it a historic achievement for Southwest Florida’s workforce and economy.
Developing our local talent relies on three pillars: locating the regional talent, understanding the skills gap and developing the appropriate training and support to meet the needs of businesses and the workforce. Building on these pillars, the Southwest Florida Equitable Jobs Pipeline will focus on four transforming industry sectors – health care, manufacturing, logistics and K-12 public education – to meet the many challenges ahead.
Data on employment shows that these four targeted industries are “transforming” or “emerging,” which suggests they are not concentrated in the region. As such, these industries have the potential for growth, strengthening the regional ability to support and attract new businesses. This should diversify the regional industrial portfolio and make Southwest Florida more resilient during economic downturns.
The Southwest Florida Equitable Jobs Pipeline targets underserved populations who face multiple barriers to education, employment and career advancement. While sometimes invisible to those who have historically had access to greater resources, these obstacles can seem unbeatable to those facing them. By strengthening our regional collaboration through the jobs pipeline, we expect to find long-term community solutions to address these barriers.
This initiative will recruit job seekers — including rural, Black and Hispanic residents—into pipelines that help them earn industry-recognized credentials to secure careers with local employers. Because ours is a regional collaboration, the initiative relies on partnerships with employers and educational providers to close skills gaps. We also need nonprofits to provide support and help develop ways to meet the needs of underserved communities. We will work with employers in each industry to refine our understanding of needed skills and those missing in the region. Education partners will recruit job seekers to partake in new training programs – tailored to industry needs and the businesses that have committed to hiring trainees.