When we talk to employers around the Tampa Bay area, we often hear the same refrain — they cannot find enough qualified workers. Despite more and more jobs becoming available, employers are facing the same challenges and asking themselves: How can we increase access to post-secondary education, skills training and certification programs needed to meet the demands for a diverse talent pipeline?
Whether the organization is in health care, manufacturing, financial services or other industries, the conversation inevitably turns to how colleges and universities need to do more to fill the skills gap. Connecting people with good, high-paying jobs is challenging work. We believe it is a task our Tampa Bay community is certainly up for, but it will require increased support and contributions from individuals and businesses.
Our two organizations, St. Petersburg College and Bank of America are embracing this challenge. Like other institutions of higher learning around Tampa Bay, SPC is focused on developing closer relationships with employers to have a deeper understanding of what they need and how we can help. The bank’s partnership with SPC is direct evidence of educational institutions and businesses joining forces to reduce the skills gap and develop long-term career opportunities.
Through this partnership, SPC is expanding its staff to create a “concierge” service for employers, working with local business partners, including BayCare and Lockheed Martin, to determine what jobs the businesses need to fill, preparing students for those jobs and then guiding students and alumni through the process of landing jobs or getting promotions.
Most recently, SPC helped Duke Energy fill positions for line workers — highly trained professionals who keep our energy grid working efficiently. The college collaborated with Duke to create a 14-week certification program, and now graduates are landing jobs that can often lead to salaries of more than $100,000 a year.
The importance of matching college curriculums with the needs of businesses has never been more acute, with scores of experienced workers retiring and others changing careers. At the same time, certain industries are evolving. The energy field is growing with opportunities from electric vehicles and solar power. The medical industry is in desperate need of skilled nurses and medical technicians to keep up with increase demand due to the pandemic and new innovations. More students are realizing that while two- and four-year degrees are the answer for many workers, shorter-term credentials can also lead to a rewarding career.
Of course, training a consistent pipeline of qualified workers will not improve overnight, and it’s going to take invested resources to make a significant impact. The road forward will require more funding, partnerships, contributions from businesses and a broader commitment across our community to help more people attain post-secondary education and training, with commitments to hire upon completion.
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Apart from the partnership with Bank of America, the city of St. Petersburg and the Speer Foundation are pitching in to help, too, and it’s important that we focus on outreach to underserved populations by partnering with groups like the Urban League and the Hispanic Outreach Council.
The answers involve more than money; they also require a commitment of time. When employers take the time to determine what they need while working with local colleges and universities like SPC to adjust curriculums, the results can be striking.
It is important for employers to do more than just hold job fairs. Employers can get involved with educational institutions, companies, and organizations to promote job openings. They can also invest in organizations that provide programs and opportunities that fuel the pipeline for today’s job market and address the larger skills gap challenge. The workforce landscape is constantly changing, and it is imperative to be willing to move faster to adapt.
We are up for the challenge, and we urge employers and businesses to join us in the effort.
Tonjua Williams is the president of St. Petersburg College, and Bill Goede is the president of Bank of America Tampa Bay.