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Robert Trigaux

Florida Council of 100: Close talent gap, hone education focus or serve more french fries



Frenchfries Wake up and good morning. A prominent business group for nearly 50 years, the Florida Council of 100 has some new ideas on how to make the state's educational system, from kindergarten through university, better and more geared to fitting the demands of the state's future economy and workforce. The group, in conjunction with the Florida Chamber of Commerce, released its latest findings, called Closing the Talent Gap: A Business Perspective, on Thursday.

To say it is written in an urgent tone is an understatement."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."

Here's the full report and here's a St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald story that focuses on its recommendations on teacher tenure (it's a poor idea) and the Bright Futures funding that covers tuition at state universities (raise the eligibility and give more of it to students pursuing math and science degrees).

Oh yeah. The report also recommends doubling higher education funding over the next five years. Admirable in spirit since the state university system is running on vapors. But amusing in reality since the state budget is in funding tatters and already faces billions in upcoming cuts.

SusanStorygulfpower "The Florida Council of 100 has always fervently held that Florida needs a world-class workforce infrastructure if our citizens are to have the career tools they need to compete and prosper in the global innovation economy of the 21st century," stated Susan Story (in photo), the head of Gulf Power on the Florida, an avid state economic development participant and the current chair of the Florida Council of 100.

There's a ton of information, recommendations and wishful thinking throughout the report.The main point of the report since, after all, it was assembled by a business group created to offer public policy ideas, is to make Florida more competitive by better educating its residents and better focusing on the type of educational skills that can serve our future workforce.

At the heart of the report is a call for better coordination of Florida's education goals. Here are a few other select highlights from the report:

* 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.

* Florida's suffering a 20-year low in funding per state university student. Controlling for inflation, Florida spends $4,500 less per university student than it did in 1989.95 The decline comes while neighboring states have boosted per-student dollars by 3 percent. 

* The reports calls for a “New Florida Initiative”: Florida’s economy has historically been driven by the tourism industry, the agriculture industry, and rapid population growth. While the first two drivers will continue to be key economic pillars, rapid population growth will not. As such, a new third pillar is needed to augment the state’s high-wage job structure: a knowledge-based economy that promotes STEM -- short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. The state university system needs to be a key, if not the key, driver of this transformation by turning Florida into a magnet for researchers and industry needing an educated populous.

Bottom line? Florida's not even remotely competitive with the leading states and countries when it comes to quality education, relevantly trained workforces and the ability to generate innovation on a wide scale. Want to be a player in this century? Read a report that bucks the status quo and might push Florida in the right direction.

Or toss Closing the Talent Gap on the dusty shelf and repeat after me: Do you want fries with that?

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:27am]


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