Updated 5 yearss ago
Rural-county manufacturers are getting involved
in training, transportation and child care.
By Julie S. Bettinger
When even Disney World is having trouble finding workers, what's a rural-county employer in need of skilled employees supposed to do? Get creative -- tap into the 23,000 people in the six-county region who live at or below the poverty level and offer free transportation, training scholarships, books and supplies, paid internships, even child care.
In these days of historically low unemployment, it's taking a concerted effort among the North Florida Workforce Development Board, Taylor Technical Institute and local manufacturers to keep prospects in the employment pipeline.
About 30% of Taylor County's jobs are in manufacturing, compared with 7% statewide. Taylor is in the top five per capita for manufacturing jobs, with more than 26 firms. To meet the workforce demands of those industries and others in surrounding counties, Taylor Technical Institute started working closely with local employers, as early as 1988, to better match its coursework with job descriptions. Three of the 10 programs the school now offers are geared toward manufacturing and represent about a third of the enrollment.
Students who finish a program are almost guaranteed a job, according to the school's director, Ken Olsen. Taylor Tech has a 90% or better placement rate in technical programs. The positions that students are trained for are lucrative and offer long-term prospects. Buckeye Florida (formerly Procter & Gamble Cellulose), the largest employer in Taylor County, pays its operators and mechanics on average between $45,000 to $50,000 after only five to 10 years on the job, says Michele Curtis, human resources manager. And while the pay at smaller manufacturers is lower, salaries are still above the region's average of $17,204. At United Welding, which employs 100, workers who move into supervisory positions can make $30,000 or more.
To boost training of potential employees, manufacturers lend managers to Taylor Tech who shape curricula and serve as adjunct instructors. The firms also offer scholarships and paid internships to students and donate used equipment for classroom instruction. Buckeye Florida has donated between $70,000 to $80,000 a year in surplus equipment to Taylor Tech since 1988.
Barriers still remain for the potential employees. The biggest is transportation. Rural north Florida counties, for the most part, lack public transit, and many people have to commute long distances for the right jobs. Mike Deming, executive director of the North Florida Workforce Development Board, says his agency set up a transportation network as a pilot project to help get employees to larger companies. A van shuttles workers from Taylor, Jefferson and Madison counties to Goldkist in Live Oak in Suwannee County. The development board also contracts out for child-care, free to workers who meet federal poverty guidelines.
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