A highly-skilled workforce is the best economic development incentive a community can tap to create mobility and improve quality of life for all. Businesses cannot confidently start-up, grow, or relocate to an area without a strong talent supply coupled with a great system of education, from early childhood on.
Of course, growing and retaining a region’s workforce is complex. After five years of working together, the hundreds of individuals and organizations who call themselves FutureMakers understand that complex systems change requires broad, collective leadership as well as an unwavering community investment of time and funding to support the work required to create and sustain change in the positive direction of talent development.
In March of 2015, the FutureMakers Coalition kicked-off with a group of regional leaders signing a FutureMakers Coalition “wall” to signify a commitment to work together to reach a shared goal of transforming Southwest Florida’s workforce. When we signed the wall that morning five years ago, we agreed to work together to invest in developing a cradle to career pathway that would build and retain talent over time. It was a commitment to both systems change and a collaborative effort to uncover opportunities to support the thousands of Southwest Floridians that have yet to complete or even start a program that would earn them a credential beyond a high school diploma and open the door to a career.
As part of the team at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, which provides backbone support for the work of the coalition, I get to see the work of the FutureMakers regional action teams and projects come together. I have had a front row seat to watch FutureMakers change lives and make incredible strides for businesses in need of talent. Collectively, we’ve piloted many projects, produced data, and demonstrated incredible ingenuity in the development of best practices.
Still though, the number of credentials added since inception cannot keep up with population growth. This puts Southwest Florida at a disadvantage, challenging our ability to diversify the economy, grow businesses, and retain talent. While the trend is discouraging, the data we have shines a light on opportunities to close achievement gaps between races, ethnicities, and income levels by focusing efforts on making the education system work for everyone. A system that works for all, regardless of differences or zip codes, will get us significantly closer to our goal of transforming Southwest Florida’s workforce by increasing the proportion of credentialed workforce to 55%.
The FutureMakers Coalition is poised to begin replicating and scaling what we’ve learned over the years. We’ve made it this far using what we have, now is the time to invest funding into this work to realize real, sustainable change.
What does the ultimate success of the FutureMakers Coalition look like? Southwest Florida will become a place where quality early childhood centers are accessible to everyone, ensuring children are ready for kindergarten. Southwest Florida’s five school districts will increase their desirability as all students will be prepared to earn the degrees, certificates, and skills needed to create and fill jobs into the future. Imagine a region with a variety of jobs that make us resilient in the face of recession or natural disaster. We envision reduced crime, more innovation to solve local problems, increased civic engagement, and greater tolerance.
If this is the kind of place you want to live and do business, consider investing in this future. It’s going to take all of us to get there, but with enough resources, we will. Together, we can do anything.
Tessa LeSage is director of social innovation and sustainability for Southwest Florida Community Foundation and a FutureMaker