Manufacturing is entering a new era, everybody tells us.
Operating a rivet gun or a lathe is no longer good enough. Technical proficiency is a must. Anyone without advanced computer skills risks being left in the dust.
So what is Hernando County offering to help its workers get into this frantic global race?
A chance to master a 30-year-old word-processing program.
That's right. More than a year after Mike McHugh, the county's business development manager, took his case for an adult technical education program directly to the School Board, it's ready to roll — offering a 20-hour course in Microsoft Word.
True, it's the latest version of the program, and for the many job applicants who don't have a computer at home and lack even basic keyboard skills, this course could be a good start.
But if you're younger than 40, you probably used Word to type your high school term papers. It's floppy disc technology in an advanced robotics world.
And, considering the county's deep need for job training, it's pretty sad.
Despite what you might assume from looking at Hernando's stubbornly high unemployment rate, lots of businesses need workers.
"We can't find help here, and it's killing us," said Jeff Roth, owner of Chasco Machine and Manufacturing.
Trained food service workers can find jobs in schools, hospitals, nursing homes and, of course, restaurants, said Dave Hamilton, program manager with the Pasco-Hernando Workforce Board:
"Have you been to a restaurant in Spring Hill on a Friday night? It's a contact sport."
So, we have people who need jobs, and business owners with jobs to give. What we don't have is the one thing that can link these two groups together — training.
This is not only a disservice to the unemployed residents and their families, but to taxpayers. Citrus and Pasco counties each receive more than $2 million a year in state vocational grants that Hernando misses out on because it doesn't have an established adult jobs training program.
McHugh's idea was to get just a little something started at an existing facility, Nature Coast Technical High School, so the county could begin claiming these funds and then start offering more, and more advanced, classes.
But the course on Word won't allow the county to apply for state money because it can't lead directly to employment. Two other programs — food preparation and manufacturing — could lead to jobs and would have made the county eligible for grants, McHugh said.
But they aren't being offered because too few students enrolled. And they didn't enroll because they didn't know about them. School superintendent Bryan Blavatt said there hadn't been enough time for "marketing."
We're not necessarily talking about a major media blitz, by the way. Just passing word of these programs to the workforce board hits the bull's-eye of the target audience. That didn't happen until a month ago.
True to the school district's "don't worry, we'll get around to it" approach to this entire issue, Blavatt said a more ambitious training program is due to start in the fall.
That's a long time for businesses like Chasco, struggling to fill contracts — an even longer time for jobless folks just plain struggling.