Local employers already were struggling to find enough qualified candidates for jobs when the pandemic disruption accelerated the shortage to a critical level.
The crippling results were evident throughout the business world and in our daily lives. Slowed production, scarce household goods, long waits for new orders and repairs, and lost income are among the costly reverberations.
While our overall economy and many individual households across the income spectrum are still experiencing the impacts, the hardest-hit group of workers are low-income Floridians with the least education.
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Closing the gap between employers with vacant jobs and job seekers depends on more workers acquiring education beyond high school so they are equipped with skills that can land them a decent-paying job and prepare them to be more resilient in economic disruptions.
Only 50% of working-age Floridians currently have education beyond high school. According to the most recent data, on average Floridians with just a high school diploma earn $31,000 annually compared to $41,000 for a vocational certificate, and $66,000 for an associate’s degree, and continuing upward.
With the 10 most in-demand jobs in Florida requiring education beyond high school and labor economists predicting that by 2030 more than 60% of jobs will require a degree or credential beyond high school, the situation will only worsen if sweeping action isn’t taken soon.
The need in Sarasota County, where just 52.5% of current workers have education beyond high school, prompted PLANit Sarasota to join the Florida College Access Network’s Talent Strong Florida Campaign to stress the importance of education beyond a high school diploma.
The statewide campaign aligns with PLANit Sarasota’s focus on increasing the rate of students who pursue a purposeful postsecondary pathway, particularly among those historically underrepresented in higher education.
Our message to students and their families is based on the concept that there are multiple doors to success. A student can choose a door to a traditional two- or four-year college, or technical college, or the U.S. military for further education or advanced technical certificates.
We emphasize that there’s not a wrong or right door as long as it opens to the postsecondary education that’s right for them.
One way we are getting the message to students is to introduce them to high-demand jobs utilizing modern technology at events that bring together an employer, an education provider, and a supporting organization partner.
At North Port High School recently, students engaged via Zoom with PGT Custom Windows and Doors as the major employer showed how technology is used in its modern manufacturing facilities, and Suncoast Technical College demonstrated a large robotic arm and discussed the training programs available.
We are collaborating with our PLANit Sarasota partners to provide more expanded access for students to explore their interests and see if they match in-demand job descriptions.
A related focus is creating more entrepreneurial opportunities, and getting a technical certificate and starting to work quickly in an in-demand field can be a quick road to owning one’s own business.
Here’s how it can work: A student goes to technical college to earn his automotive service technology certificate and quickly gets a job at a dealership. Soon he opens his own auto repair shop, hires employees, and opens more locations – all while earning a college degree in business management that gives him an informed base to keep pace with his growing business.
In short, our local employers need more highly skilled talent, and our workers need the career opportunities and stability that higher education affords. PLANit Sarasota partners are committed to helping close the gap. Visit us at EdFoundationSRQ.org/planit-sarasota to learn more.
About PLANit Sarasota
The Education Foundation of Sarasota County is proud to serve as the convening organization for the Sarasota Local College Access Network, PLANit Sarasota. PLANit Sarasota is a cross-sector group of education and youth services organizations and community partners focused on increasing the rate of students who pursue a purposeful postsecondary pathway, particularly among those historically underrepresented in higher education.
Thomas Williams, is chief collaboration officer & PLANit Sarasota director at Education Foundation of Sarasota County.