The apprentice track
Some firms recognize the value in creating apprenticeships for young workers.
The College Cachet
Beginning in 2014, Florida technical centers, vocational training schools run by local school districts, began changing their names to replace “center” with “college.” The change led to a major upgrade “to the image of what we were doing” and higher enrollment, says Robert Crawford, director of Atlantic Technical College and Technical High School in Coconut Creek in Broward County.
Simply put, students — and their parents — would rather say they’re going to college. Florida has 38 such colleges and 11 that still use “center.” They educated 232,627 students in 2015-16 and awarded 10,598 industry credentials. The biggest recent initiative across the state: “Career In A Year” programs in which students can earn an industry credential in “high wage, high skill, high demand” fields. At Atlantic, such programs include machining technologies and dental assisting. “The thing that’s resonating is Career In A Year,” Crawford says. The college also has 2,500 apprentices studying various skilled trades.
The Skills Gap
Yes, skills are lacking, but not just the skills you may think.
Hard skills can be hard to find: Florida manufacturers complain they can’t find machinists. Masonry companies say they can’t find masons. Aircraft repair firms lament that they can’t find mechanics. All are jobs that don’t require a four-year degree and pay a decent wage.
“We know there are gaps,” says Michelle Dennard, president and CEO of CareerSource Florida, the state’s workforce policy and investment organization that is producing a statewide analysis — due out next year — of job vacancies to “tell us from region to region what are the gaps, where are they.”
The statewide study follows a pilot analysis done in Broward in 2016 that surveyed 3,300 businesses. The survey found 39,000 job openings — many in low-wage sectors such as retail sales and customer service, though No. 3 was registered nurses.
The most surprising aspect of the Broward study, however, was its finding that workers at every educational level lacked “soft skills” — employability-related skills like showing up for work on time and being able to communicate effectively with customers.
In fact, “soft skills gaps” outnumbered hard skills gaps among all workers by three to one, notes Mason Jackson, CareerSource Broward president and CEO.
Marlene Velez, of St. Petersburg-based statewide electrical contractor Power Design, which heavily invests in apprenticeships to build its licensed workforce, says a lack of soft skills is an issue in hiring newcomers.
“We hire for the soft skills first,” she says. “Technical skills, we’re willing to train. You have to show you have the skills we can’t teach.”
There are about 2.5 million Floridians over 18 who are disabled — about 16% of the state’s over-18 population. Nearly two-thirds of the working-age disabled population isn’t in the labor force. While the state has a similar rate of disabled people as the nation, the percentage of disabled Floridians who aren’t in the workforce is slightly higher than the national average, and the share of disabled Floridians who are employed is slightly lower — 4.4% in Florida compared to 5.0% nationally. JARC Florida, a Boca Raton-based non-profit, held a free program this summer to help 25 people with disabilities transition from high school to the workforce. The program’s precursor, launched in late 2014, put JARC clients to work at Marshall’s and the Cheesecake Factory, earning minimum wage from JARC through a state grant. The businesses, in return for the free labor, trained and guided the JARC employees.
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