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Getting Skilled: Northwest Florida's quest for skilled workers

An estimated 3,400 skilled workers will be needed in northwest Florida over the next five years, but regional education and workforce development programs expect to train just 860. The shortage has prompted manufacturers to form the Northwest Florida Manufacturers Council, whose goal is to produce more skilled workers and create awareness of jobs.

“Manufacturing has a higher economic impact (as measured by earnings) in the region per job generated than any other industry supercluster,” says Jennifer Grove, workforce development coordinator at Gulf Power and executive director of the newly formed council. The manufacturing industry in northwest Florida is expected to produce $2.6 billion in gross domestic product this year. Salaries can reach $60,000, Grove says.

How Manufacturing Stacks Up

Industry Jobs Total Earnings Earnings per Worker
Manufacturing 14,518 $985 million $67,800
Leisure/Hospitality 63,053 $1.3 billion $20,600
Retail Trade 49,970 $1.2 billion $24,392
Professional/Business Services 39,340 $1.8 billion $46,440
Private Education/Health 51,647 $2.1 billion $41,574
Note: Includes Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, Franklin, Washington, Jackson, Holmes, Calhoun, and Liberty counties; 2012
Source: Department of Economic Opportunity

Workers with a welding certificate, for example, can start out making nearly $17 per hour, according to Workforce Florida. “And it’s more common to be paid up to $50 per hour,” Grove says.

Covering 12 counties, the council is working with educational leaders in high schools, technical centers and state colleges and hopes to develop a skilled cadre of welders, aircraft mechanics, metal fabricators and others within the next five years. “We’ve found the education and workforce development partners in the region to be very collaborative in working with us to implement solutions to these challenges,” Grove says.

“Most residents don’t know we have such a strong manufacturing base or that salaries of this sector in our economy can be $60,000,” says Jennifer Grove.