No greater goal: How can Pinellas (and Tampa Bay) go 'all in' to prep workforce for better jobs?
Wake up and good morning. Pinellas County leaders -- mostly county government and school officials -- got together Thursday in a rare face-to-face brainstorming session to figure out better ways to prepare the area workforce to fill what business executives hope are better paying and higher-skilled jobs in the coming years. Read more about the event in my St. Petersburg Times column here.
The bottom line is that the meeting was good -- if only because Pinellas County commissioners, school board members and St. Petersburg College trustees apparently don't talk to each other much about shaping up our workforce and students for specific kinds of future jobs -- but generated very tentative ideas. That's okay, if these groups bother to follow up and keep pushing for some substantive reforms. If that does not happen, if these groups get caught up again in the constant drumbeat of daily affairs, then this opportunity will be squandered and the region's economy will suffer accordingly in the coming years.
The gathering was, in part, driven by the Tampa Bay Partnership whose "regional blueprint" study (here's the executive summary), out earlier this past May (read my earlier column here) specifies the types of jobs this metro region should pursue and support. While Thursday's brainstorm session was aimed at Pinellas, TBP CEO Stu Rogel's on a traveling show explaining the regional blueprint to all eight metrowide counties as well as to cities and other economic development groups. Rogel has two goals. First he wants groups like the Pinellas commissioners and educators to rally around workforce development so that the presumed future jobs sought by this study can materialize. Second, Rogel wants buy-in from as many governing and economic groups in the area as possible. Without broad support, this regional blueprint becomes another dusty binder on the Wall of Forgotten Economic Strategies.
Here's one interesting sidelight to Thursday's meeting I did not have space to touch on in Friday's column in the Times.
* Pinellas School board chair Carol Cook (photo, left) expressed frustration that the Florida schools ranked No. 5 nationally (by Education Week) in performance while they ranked 48th or 49th in teacher pay. While that may be a remarkable testament to stretching a dollar, Cook's main beef is that the high national rank of Florida schools is so little known. That, she says, needs to change. Besides, it's part of the greater message that Florida (and Pinellas) school system is producing better graduates than many might think. Pinellas County School Superintendent Julie Janssen, who also attended Thursday's 3-hour session, put it well when she said she is in charge of the "farm" where future workers are being raised. Thursday's meeting, she noted, "is long overdue."
We'll be watching with great interest to see if this workforce effort gains traction.
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times