If there is a right time to improve how Floridians can learn about the best opportunities for new jobs or about job training to learn new skills, a pandemic that has upended the state’s economy is it.
Nearly six of 10 Floridians have experienced a pay cut, seen their work hours reduced or lost their job since the pandemic hit the state with full force a year ago. While we are fortunate that our unemployment rate has dropped significantly since last year and is below the nation’s unemployment rate, more than 500,000 jobs still have not returned. Some of those jobs will never come back, but there certainly will be new possibilities for good jobs and decent pay as we reinvent ourselves.
The bottom line: This is the ideal moment to redesign our workforce and education systems to efficiently serve Floridians and prepare them to succeed in a redesigned economy. We are fortunate that Gov. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, are making this overhaul a priority during this legislative session.
The reality is that Florida’s workforce-related programs badly needed attention even before the coronavirus. The Tampa Bay Times published an extensive investigation in 2018 that revealed serious management issues, a lack of accountability and unsatisfactory results at the CareerSource agencies in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
Sprowls said earlier this year that a critical audit of the state’s workforce programs by the U.S. Department of Commerce highlighted what he already knew. “Federal and local workforce boards and programs lack quality customer service for our residents looking for one place to go for work, training or benefits,’' he said.
I know firsthand the importance of these sorts of programs. In the last two years, CareerSource Tampa Bay helped my small business find talented workers. Its Summer Job Connection program was a big help in identifying young people eager for an opportunity. But there are certainly broad issues that still need answers.
Under Sprowls’ steady leadership, the House is preparing a comprehensive solution. One of the key pieces is the Reach Act, HB 1507. It would create a framework that integrates the pieces of the workforce development puzzle, require more accountability and makes it easier to prepare for and seek employment for both students and workers. This sweeping legislation would make a real difference by modernizing Florida’s workforce delivery system, and it would give the state more flexibility to oversee workforce investment across the state.
One of the smart overarching goals of the Reach Act is to standardize the workforce development system and make it easier to use for anyone pursuing new career opportunities and looking for work. For example, there would be an online hub that Floridians could use to identify which types of jobs are in most demand, the skills that are needed to be hired for those jobs and where to learn those skills.
There are other smart reforms in the legislation as well. A new Office of Reimagining Education and Career Help (REACH) would be established in the governor’s office to help oversee this effort. Local workforce development boards would get more oversight and be given a letter grade based on their performance. And the state would give grants to local school districts and state colleges to help pay the cost for short-term, high-demand programs needed to train workers to fill new jobs.
This is an ambitious effort, and it’s critical for Florida’s economic future. As the state recovers from the pandemic, we have to ensure Floridians have a solid grasp of new job opportunities and access to the training needed to learn the skills to succeed in those jobs.
Aakash Patel is the founder and President of Elevate, Inc., a Florida-based strategic business consulting firm providing public relations, community relations, targeted networking and social media.