Confluence of 2021 events could stress Florida Chamber of Commerce goals

After a year of economic backsliding in Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce is looking for a jumpstart to recovery to finish the rest of the decade strong.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Florida 2030 Blueprint calls for the private sector to create 2 million new jobs, but the state lost half a million this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Next year, a confluence of events could change the landscape of economic development, said Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson, stressing the need for job growth.

On top of continuing COVID-19 recovery, the nation is looking to a new Congress to pass an infrastructure bill, Wilson said on the first day of a four-part Chamber webinar about education and the workforce.

Currently, 300,000 jobs are available in Florida because employers can’t find qualified people to fill them despite there being 770,000 unemployed Floridians. Developing longterm infrastructure funding plans could help job trainers anticipate future workforce needs, rather than considering filling new jobs “in arrears.”

“Unfortunately, as everybody on this call knows, in our nation, the way we fund a lot of this is in arrears,” Wilson said. “It’s like, let’s get the demand first and then let’s go fund the training.”

Joe Marino, executive director of Veterans Florida, emphasized job skills within the state’s large veteran community.

“We’re trying to find ways to bridge that gap, because … the jobs are there, and in a lot of cases, the people are there,” Marino said. “But when a resume comes along from a service member, they might not have the exact same database name that an employer might be looking for, but I can guarantee if they’re ordering supplies for a navy boat, they’ve probably got some very good database experience.”

Ahead of Election Day, when voters approved a constitutional amendment that would eventually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, the Chamber came out in opposition to the ballot initiative. But now that the first step to that level begins next year, Wilson said employers need to anticipate its possible effects on the workforce.

“If someone with no skills can earn $15 an hour, what do you do?” he posed. “Do you still get that education and that training if you can make $15 an hour with no skills, no degree, no (certifications) whatsoever?”

In the coronavirus era, when many employees are no longer geographically tied to a job site, job applicants and employers are no longer competing against neighbors and people from the local community. Applicants can potentially compete across the globe, said Tony Carvajal, president of The Able Trust, a nonprofit that connects Floridians with disabilities to job opportunities. To get Floridians employed, he believes “talent is the differentiator.”

“Talent has to be the thing that we focus on if we’re going to make a huge difference in this world,” Carvajal said.

Madeline Pumariega, executive vice president and provost of Tallahassee Community College, added that the pandemic should refocus people’s lens on what the future work looks like.

“If COVID-19’s given us anything to look at, it’s what are those human traits that people are hungry and thirsty for? And they’re found in our resilient skills, but they’re empathy and collaboration and communication and critical thinking,” she said.

The broad Florida 2030 plan, developed through research and by industry leaders, targets workforce growth in five sectors: aviation and aerospace, financial and professional services, healthcare and life sciences, manufacturing, and trade and logistics. Other areas of the blueprint target economic diversification, improving the state’s business climate and more.

CareerSource Florida President and CEO Michelle Dennard argued plans are still critical despite the pandemic.

“Much of it must be accelerated,” she added. “Simply because we’re in unprecedented times…

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