Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

United for Success in Florida

The fact that Florida’s workforce consistently ranks as one of the best qualified in the nation is no accident. Here, the individual agencies devoted to education, workforce and economic development work together to ensure that Florida grows, attracts and retains a highly skilled labor pool — the kind that new and existing companies can readily draw from when they relocate or expand. It’s a team effort devoted to the formation of the most important ingredient in today’s knowledge-based economy — human capital.

Sowing the seeds of a solid workforce

Florida’s educational system is geared at every level for prepping the next generation for future workplace challenges:

VPK program

Education and Workforce in Florida
In Florida classrooms, the students of today perfect the skills they’ll need to join the workforce of tomorrow.

Florida was one of the first states to recognize the link between early childhood education and higher test scores, higher high school graduation rates and higher earnings later on by incorporating a voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) program into its public school system. Annual enrollment tops 100,000, and the children who attend VPK programs consistently show themselves to be better prepared for the classroom than their peers who do not.


K-12 public school system

In the K-12 system, workforce preparation is fundamental; reading and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) are curriculum priorities. In addition, every Florida school district has at least one high school-based career and professional academy, where completion of the rigorous academic curriculum can mean a standard high school diploma, the highest available industry certifications and, in many cases, college credits. High school diplomas in Florida must show a student’s specific major area of interest, as well as designations for completion of accelerated college credit courses, career education certification and the Florida Ready to Work Credential, if applicable.


Ready to Work

Sandra Foland

“Florida Ready to Work allows me to interview a pool of 10 applicants instead of 100, and I know they all have the skills I need.”

— Sandra Foland
Baron Sign Manufacturing
Riviera Beach

Florida’s Ready to Work Credential program assesses participants in three key areas: Reading for Information, Applied Mathematics and Locating Information. Each assessment is scored on a scale from 3 to 7; the higher the score, the greater the applicant’s ability to perform more complex skills. The Ready to Work Credential is awarded at one of three levels depending on individual scores in each key area. Employers can be assured that job applicants arriving with the Florida Ready to Work Credential in hand have the skills needed for successful on-the-job performance. Administered by the Florida Department of Education and funded by the Florida Legislature, the Ready to Work program is available at no cost to students, employers, schools or other partners.

EMTs and paramedics
EMTs and paramedics in training at South Florida Community College respond to a mock car accident, practicing skills they will use on the job.

A Singular Focus

By 2014, 15 of the 20 fastest growing jobs in America will require substantial math or science preparation. So says the U.S. Department of Labor, and Florida is wasting no time bringing its workforce up to par.

In June 2009, Workforce Florida and Enterprise Florida announced plans to create a statewide council to strengthen the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills of Florida’s students as a way to address the increasing demand for jobs requiring strong foundations in these areas. Funded by a $580,000 grant from Workforce Florida, the Florida STEM Council will connect education, workforce, business and economic development leaders to identify opportunities to instill the state’s supply of workers with the skills and knowledge needed to support innovation in existing and emerging industries.

The grant will be used to: conduct regional forums to coordinate STEM education efforts throughout the state; provide externships for teachers to learn about STEM curriculum and how to equip students with the skills businesses need most; and create internships that provide firsthand exposure to career opportunities for students studying STEM disciplines.

Workforce Florida Chair Belinda Keiser calls the STEM Council an important asset in Florida’s efforts to cultivate life sciences, aerospace, alternative energy and other industries. “By fostering these skills, which are demanded by today’s marketplace as well as tomorrow’s, we are helping to grow our state’s advantage in the global competition for world-class talent.”

Community and State Colleges

The 28 community colleges that make up Florida’s Community College System play a critical role in workforce readiness, preparing young people for further education or direct entry into the workforce, and helping adults acquire the skills they need to assume new jobs in clean energy, life sciences, information technology or other fast-growing industry sectors.

More than 830,000 students are served each year by Florida’s community colleges at 61 campuses and 176 sites. The majority (62%) are part-time students with an average age of 25, who fit classes in between work and family responsibilities.

Florida community colleges offer nearly 800 associate of arts, associate of science and associate of applied science degrees and about 500 certificate programs; 14 of the 28 schools are approved to offer baccalaureate degrees in fields such as nursing, teacher education, information technology and health services administration. In 2007-2008, Florida’s community colleges awarded a total of 72,760 degrees and certificates.

Recognizing that additional bachelor’s degree programs were needed in Florida to meet the growing, changing demands of employers for skilled workers, Gov. Charlie Crist signed legislation in 2008 creating the Florida State College Pilot Project. The law authorized 14 community colleges to offer four-year bachelor’s degrees at tuition costs that are lower than those for bachelor’s degrees from Florida’s public universities. Only 17 states nationwide allow community colleges to award bachelor’s degrees.

Florida’s 14 state colleges are able to respond quickly to workforce needs, training students for real jobs and offering degrees that large universities may be unable to offer, such as fire science management, paralegal studies, veterinary technology, international business, organizational management and information technology. And with a combination of online and actual classroom courses, these programs are designed for working adults who want to upgrade skills for the jobs they currently hold or train for entirely new careers.

Leader of the Pack

For the 7th year in a row, Florida community colleges ranked among America’s top producers of associate degrees (2007-2008 academic year). According to Community College Week’s 2008 Top 100 report, Florida institutions led the list of more than 1,200 community colleges nationwide in the following categories:

  • Total associate degrees awarded
  • Number of associate degrees awarded to minorities
  • Nursing, liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities degrees

Community colleges in Florida awarded 49,354 associate degrees in 2007-2008.

Public and Private Universities

At public universities, private colleges and universities and career-technical schools, students are acquiring the knowledge and skills today that will be needed by employers tomorrow.

At a Glance: Florida Education

Public Schools (K-12)


Average Teacher Salary (K-12)


Pre-K-12 Enrollment


Pre-K-12 Per-Student State and Local Funding


State Universities 11
Community Colleges


Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida (ICUF)


Non-Public Postsecondary Schools
(including technical & trade schools)

Public Technical & Trade Schools 45
Enrollment at Florida’s 11 public universities tops 300,000; another 120,000 students attend private, independent colleges and universities. In 2006-2007 (most recent data available), public universities in Florida awarded close to 65,000 degrees. The state boasts six major medical schools, two of which — at the University of Central Florida and at Florida International University — opened in fall 2009.

The Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) is an association of 28 private, accredited and not-for-profit schools that are Florida-based. With 120,000 students and classes at 180 sites throughout the state, ICUF schools turn out one-third of all college degrees awarded in Florida, including 26% of bachelor’s degrees and 56% of first professional degrees (doctors, lawyers, dentists, pharmacists, optometrists and podiatrists). And instruction is highly personalized; the average class has just 20 students.

Additional educational options are available at career-technical schools and for-profit colleges where classes tend to be small and the curriculum heavily career focused. According to the Florida Association of Postsecondary Schools and Colleges, the number of for-profit colleges offering degrees in Florida grew from 238 in 2003 to 313 in 2008, and enrollment is on the rise. In 2006-2007, approximately 135,000 students were enrolled at Florida’s for-profit colleges, up 23% from the previous year.

An Integrated Workforce System

When making the decision to expand or relocate, business owners most often put workforce issues at the top of their priorities. Companies that choose Florida soon find that workforce services here have been fine-tuned and fully coordinated to serve the needs of employers and employees alike.

Under the Employ Florida umbrella are two partners at the state level: Workforce Florida Inc., which oversees and monitors the administration of the state’s workforce policy, programs and services, and the Agency for Workforce Innovation, which administers workforce funds, houses the Office of Labor Market Statistics and serves as the designated U.S. Census data center for Florida.

At the local level, 24 regional workforce boards with significant business representation implement workforce programs in their communities, including the oversight of nearly 90 One-Stop Centers where services are delivered directly to employers and job seekers.

Whatever the need — whether it’s an individual employer seeking workers with specialized skills or an entire industry undergoing transition — Florida’s workforce system stands ready to help.

Erik Simonsen
“Our site has been a success, and much of that can be attributed to support from Workforce Florida and the state of Florida in general.”

— Erik Simonsen
Deutsche Bank Jacksonville

Customized Training Makes the Difference

There is no discounting the importance of formal classroom education, diplomas and degrees. But sometimes, they’re just not enough to meet specific employer needs. For example, an aging workforce on the brink of retirement might necessitate industry-wide training of a new generation of workers to take their place. New equipment often requires new skill sets, and a shift in products or services may mean that legacy systems or long-held knowledge about the “right” way to perform a particular job task have become obsolete. In cases like these, employers of all sizes are taking advantage of the customized training programs and incentives that help support job creation and retention, such as the Quick Response Training (QRT) grant Florida makes available to ensure that workers acquire the updated skills they need:

Lockheed Martin

A corporation as large and with as many projects and suppliers as Lockheed Martin generates a significant number of documents during the procure-to-pay (PTP) process. Everything from the initial RFP to purchase orders to status and delivery notices to final payment must be logged and monitored. And not surprisingly, over the course of many years, various divisions throughout the company have devised their own systems — more than 40 in all — for entering and tracking all types of documents and at various stages of PTP. In 2008, Lockheed Martin made the decision to develop a consistent PTP tool for use company-wide. The new tool would, of course, require employees to be trained in new skills, which is where Workforce Florida entered the picture. Says Jon Crump, Lockheed Martin’s chief information officer, enterprise operations, “This was a major modernization for Lockheed Martin, so we talked with Workforce Florida to get a general understanding of what capabilities they have.” Because of the technical nature of the subject matter, Lockheed Martin did not need help securing trainers or developing curriculum. However, the company did qualify for a Quick Response Training (QRT) grant totaling $2.2 million. The funding is being used, along with company matching funds, to underwrite the cost of obtaining state-of-the-art procurement software and establishing a training regimen that combines traditional classroom sessions with self-paced tutorials for nearly 1,000 employees in Florida alone, plus performance support in the form of online help that workers can access at any time as they work through the application. Plans call for the complete training program to be rolled out in six phases over a three-year period. The first classroom session took place in July 2009; the last of the sessions will be completed in 2012. “The people at Workforce Florida were hands down very responsive, very easy to work with,” says Crump. Deutsche Bank

When Deutsche Bank came to Jacksonville in 2008, it was for the purpose of building a service center to support the German-based bank’s operations around the globe. That move brought a completely new set of skills to the Jacksonville market, which meant that new hires would have to be trained in general about the products investment banks sell to clients as well as applications and processes specific to Deutsche Bank. “We knew we’d be hiring a large number of employees just out of school and without previous financial institution experience,” says Erik Simonsen, COO, Deutsche Bank Jacksonville. “Training was obviously of huge importance to us.” Deutsche Bank had the necessary personnel — in-house trainers and subject matter experts from around the world — but it needed funds to help offset the cost of thousands of hours of training. Workforce Florida stepped up to help with a QRT grant of more than $400,000, and to date, 600 employees have been trained. “Our site has been a success,” says Simonsen, “and much of that can be attributed to support from Workforce Florida and the state of Florida in general.”

One-Stop Centers:
Your Local Connection

The nearly 90 One-Stop Centers throughout the state are the bricks-and-mortar entry points to Florida’s comprehensive workforce system. Here, employers and job seekers can find answers to their employment questions as well as direct access to a wide array of workforce services — many of which are available free of charge.

One-Stop Centers offer:

  • Applicant prescreening and job referrals
  • Recruitment and retention services
  • Employee skills information and services
  • Identification of and access to incentives, such as training grants
  • Labor market analysis and information
  • “Rapid response” services in the event of a ramp-up or reduction in workforce
  • A venue for job fairs and one-on-one interviews

  • Choctawhatchee Electric Cooperative Inc. (CHELCO)

    DeFuniak Springs

    The 6th largest of Florida’s 16 member-owned electric cooperatives and supplier of electricity to 40,000 residential and commercial accounts in northwest Florida, CHELCO saw the writing on the wall: Changes in the way energy will be delivered in the future via automated systems and smart grids means that line technicians and other incumbent workers must learn a new set of skills. So CHELCO called on Workforce Florida and the Walton County School District for help. The combination of a Quick Response Training grant worth more than $150,000 and a company match helped pay for the instructor, equipment and curriculum development needed to bring the skills of more than 150 CHELCO workers up to date. Says Susan VanBuren, CHELCO’s manager of employee development and training, “Workforce Florida was there, ready to roll up their sleeves and provide the assistance we needed to help our employees get comfortable with the new technology. Having the grant helped speed up our timeline. We didn’t have to re-invent the wheel.” Heartland Workforce

    As older workers at utilities and related companies in rural communities get set to retire, upgrading the skills of new hires and incumbent workers is vitally important. Heartland Workforce, which serves employers and employees in DeSoto, Hardee and Highlands counties in Florida’s South Central region, identified energy as a critical industry sector in need of workforce solutions. The result was a $500,000 QRT grant to train 157 people across 15 companies in energy and water occupations, including photovoltaic design and installation, sustainable homes design and water/wastewater operation. “We have a vested interest in making sure that businesses coming into our area stay in our area,” says Roger Hood, president and CEO of Heartland Workforce. “We’re looking for ways to help these businesses remain viable, and workforce development is a key way we can do that.”


    Florida’s complete range of state and local workforce services is as close as your computer, available 24/7 and free of charge.

    > At www.EmployFlorida.com, you’ll find:

    • More than 15,000 Florida job openings directly placed on the site by employers or One-Stop Centers.
    • Another 120,000-plus Florida job listings picked up from corporate, public and private websites.
    • Quick search features that allow job seekers to zero in on specific geographic areas and employers to sort resumes and rank applicants by skills and on-the-job experience.
    • Detailed labor force and salary statistics for quick county-by-county comparisons.