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Opinion: Florida is Taking Major Steps Toward Becoming the Nation's Workforce Leader

December 10, 2021

The following is from the Tampa Bay Business Journal

Nationally, the economic recovery from Covid-19 has been rocky, but months of job growth and an unemployment rate that has consistently bested the national average demonstrates the progress Gov. Ron DeSantis has made in delivering on his goal to make Florida the top state in workforce education by 2030.

Yet even amid positive economic progress, a skills gap persists, exacerbated by red tape and inefficiencies preventing schools and businesses from coordinating to ensure workers are trained with the skills needed for our job market. There continues to be a critical skills mismatch between businesses and workers: The state has 500,000 job openings, even as 503,000 Floridians remain out of work.

Earlier this year, state leaders took an important step toward overhauling the way students and workers move through our career system. In June, three bills that became law demonstrate Florida's commitment to making workforce education run more effectively for current and future workers. These new laws are reshaping our workforce system in a way that prioritizes people over bureaucracy, tossing out the status quo in favor of a modern, streamlined approach.

If implemented correctly, this shift has the potential to boost economic mobility, narrow the skills gap and make a major contribution to Florida's economic recovery. It can and should also serve as a model for the federal government and other states trying to improve workforce development and career education systems.

Two initiatives emerging from the new law are especially promising. Creating the Office of Reimagining Education and Career Help (REACH), housed in the governor's office, elevates workforce policy as a top priority. Overseeing coordination and alignment in Florida's workforce development system, REACH will create a "no-wrong-door" entry strategy, allowing Floridians to access services from any workforce partner with a common intake form and case management system.

It also establishes an online portal to provide access to career training services at the state, federal and local levels. Eliminating the cumbersome need for people to come in person to learn about workforce opportunities makes these tools significantly more accessible, particularly for underserved populations.

Florida's leaders must proceed carefully with the implementation of this overhaul to avoid adding new bureaucratic hurdles that reintroduce the system's current flaws in a different form.

For example, educational institutions offering innovative career training should be allowed to secure approval as a workforce training partner at the state level, rather than via each of the state's 34 individual workforce boards.

Beyond education institutions, all who have a stake in the workforce - employers, industry associations and the like - must use this time to make their voices heard. Employers must pay attention as this process unfolds and weigh in to help ensure the education-to-career pipeline is established thoughtfully and effectively. Our state's employers are one of the strongest partners education institutions and learners have.

Florida's model to meet workers where they are and reduce barriers to access and training should also serve as an example as the nation focuses on removing red tape and obstacles to social mobility. But it will take all of us to build these new efforts into a culture focused on education, training and positive outcomes.

This initiative represents a major step toward streamlining and modernizing Florida's workforce development system from top to bottom. As the state moves to deliver on positive momentum, the goal of being the country's workforce leader is well within reach.

By Tim Dengler, campus director of Altierus Career College-Tampa

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