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CareerSource Pinellas renews focus, expands programming

Ashley Morales

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Job seekers in CareerSource Pinellas' professional networking groups get access to guest speakers, resume reviews, interview practice and more. Photo provided.

CareerSource Pinellas serves tens of thousands of individuals each year, and, with an eye on the future, is working to grow its reach with fresh partnerships, programs and initiatives.

“In the last year, we grew our partnership with SailFuture Academy and expanded our partnership with Pinellas County Job Corps, where we’re focused on providing paid work-based learning activities for the youth,” Steven Meier, CEO of CareerSource Pinellas, told the Catalyst. “Just in the last year, we provided 63 teens and young adults with paid work experience across 11 trades, such as carpentry, certified nursing assistants, maintenance, pharmacy tech and more.”

Pinellas County’s workforce development agency connects businesses with qualified, skilled talent and matches job seekers with employment and career development opportunities. CareerSource Pinellas hosts more than 100 events and workshops each year, providing general career development opportunities and more specialized programming, like an upcoming Disability Industry Roundtable, aimed at educating employers on hiring persons with disabilities.

Meier also touted a new strategic partnership with CodeBoxx Academy, a St. Petersburg-based coding and software training institute. CareerSource connects CodeBoxx with individuals interested in learning coding or upskilling, often leading to lucrative jobs in the growing tech sector. 

“Right now, we have 17 individuals enrolled for training with CodeBoxx and three entering on-the-job training,” Meier said. “At the end of December, I found out that one of SailFuture’s students was interested in a training opportunity at CodeBoxx, but SailFuture didn’t know how they were going to pay for the student’s education. So I convened a meeting between us, SailFuture and CodeBoxx, and it turns out that we were able to fund that student, who started two months ago. All indications are that 18-year-old is doing really well, so we hope for a positive job placement in a few months.”

SailFuture Academy staff and students. The school provides project-based education, counseling mental health services and job training. Photo provided.

CareerSource Pinellas serves job seekers of all ages and backgrounds, but a renewed focus this year is on connecting young people with paying jobs, rather than unpaid internships.

“That gives them more responsibility and more real-world experience, because if they wake up the morning of an unpaid internship, they may say, “I don’t want to get up and go.” But if they’re getting paid, they feel like they have more responsibility and they’re more likely to go to their job,” Meier said. 

“In fact, I just found out that a student in one of our work experiences with Pinellas County Job Corps finished a six-week project and saved all of the money he earned to purchase a car,” Meier added. “Now he has reliable transportation, and he was able to find a full-time job.”

Outcomes like these, in addition to a low unemployment rate, continue to push the CareerSource team into the community and develop new strategies to meet job seekers where they’re located. Jason Druding, Director of Business Services at CareerSource Pinellas, said they’ve been working with employers to identify the “hidden market” of employees – people who want a job but are facing extenuating circumstances preventing them from immediately seeking employment. 

“Those are people who are taking care of family members, people who were justice-involved, who faced substance abuse, transportation or childcare issues. So what we try to do is eliminate some of those barriers by going into the community and working with the employers as well as the job seekers,” Druding said. 

“For example, last year, we had a job fair at the Lealman Exchange and our goal was to find employers that were situated within five miles of the Lealman Exchange, because we understand there are transportation barriers for that population,” Druding explained. “They’re not going to travel to Tarpon Springs or downtown St. Pete or Clearwater, they need to stay close by. We actually had people show up to the job fair riding a bicycle. So we’re really focused on getting into the community.”

One recent success story is that of Melissa Greene, a Pinellas County resident who found herself in a cycle of adversity after facing addiction, lack of stable housing and limited access to resources.

“I didn’t have my children in my life. I lived in a halfway house after I was released [from incarceration]. So I was also very scared and lonely, and didn’t really know what my purpose was,” Greene said. 

While working with The Red Tent Women’s Initiative, a nonprofit that provides incarcerated women skills to heal and improve their lives, Greene attended an information session by CareerSource Pinellas.

CareerSource Pinellas helped connect Melissa Greene with resources, skills training and job opportunities. She is now employed with The Red Tent Initiative. Photo provided.

“They have access to all different types of trainings, and I realized that I needed a lot more training because I had never worked in an office before,” Greene said. “My case manager at CareerSource would send me links [to job openings] because she knew what I was trying to achieve.”

Greene wound up accepting a job offer at The Red Tent Initiative, moving from benefiting from its services to providing them to women in need.

“The actual intent of the program and these partnerships is to provide people who have a significant barrier, or what I like to say is a significant backstory, that may prevent people from keeping an open mind,” Druding said. “By allowing people to gain work experience on-site, that not only builds their resume and skills but also shows employers that this is a quality person who can do the work, who is willing and motivated to do the work. That person is also more likely to stay [in the job], because of those avenues of loyalty that are built up through that that relationship.”

“It’s a slightly different approach than you may typically find in a temporary job placement program. The goal is long-term gainful employment.”

As the CareerSource Pinellas team works to uplift job seekers and educate employers throughout the community, Greene has a message for those who may feel frustrated with the process of rebuilding their careers.

“I want them to know that I was there, too. I was unhoused. I was an IV user,” Greene said. “I want to give him hope to show them that you can do it. If I can do it, anybody can do it. I truly believe that the biggest part of my recovery process was for me to believe that I could do it – and other people had to believe in me first.”

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