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Manufacturers open their talent pipeline in pilot project with Tampa Bay Works

Margie Manning



Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash

A half-dozen Tampa Bay manufacturing companies that are struggling to fill jobs are trying a new approach to attract workers.

They’ll bring together up to 50 potential employees at a one-day workshop in Lealman on Saturday, Jan. 18 and put them in teams to build a project. Those that have the aptitude and interest in manufacturing then will be invited to a free, two-week bootcamp, and those who finish the bootcamp are guaranteed a job interview with one more of the six participating employers.

Peg Walton, executive director, Tampa Bay Works

The workshop is open to people from throughout the Tampa Bay area. As many as 45 entry-level jobs are available, paying up to $14 an hour. Employers that are participating are Actron Engineering, Jabil, Monin, Polypack, TSE and Wendover Art Group.

“This isn’t a job fair. This is career awareness,” said Peg Walton, executive director, Tampa Bay Works, which is presenting the workshop in partnership with AmSkills.

The workshop will take place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Lealman Exchange, 5175 45th St. N. in Lealman, and it is free. Click here for registration.

The pilot initiative is one of the first public programs from Tampa Bay Works, which wants to replace the traditional workforce model with a talent pipeline management model developed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Historically, there’s been limited regional cooperation, fragmentation and lack of alignment between schools, training programs, community-based organizations and employers in efforts to develop a strong workforce, Walton said.

The new model instead is employer-driven, she said. Companies are asked to clearly and collectively communicate their job needs to schools and other talent “suppliers.” Those suppliers are are asked to organize a regional response to the needs, offering specific employability skills, competencies and certificate programs, and to develop connection points between students and employers.

Weak talent pipeline

The participating businesses in the Lealman workshop are part of a manufacturing collaborative launched by Tampa Bay Works, a workforce initiative created by the Tampa Bay Partnership.

The Partnership, a privately funded, CEO-driven regional advocacy organization, established Tampa Bay Works after a 2018 report compared the Tampa Bay area to 19 similar communities and found the talent pipeline here was relatively weak, with a labor shortage and skills gap. The Tampa Bay area lags other areas in workforce participation, the report found. The issue is especially pressing for “disconnected youth,” the more than 12 percent of people ages 16 to 24 in the area who are neither enrolled in school nor employed.

At the same time, demand for people to fill jobs is rising. Local employers will need to fill 850,000 job openings by 2024, according to a 2019 news release from the Partnership when it launched Tampa Bay Works.

Building a strong and sustainable talent pipeline is critical to creating a competitive economy, the Partnership said.

A $300,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase & Co. to the Partnership’s non-profit foundation funded the efforts to address regional workforce challenges. TIP Strategies, an economic development consulting firm, coordinated efforts by a regional talent working group to gather data, talk to employers and other stakeholders, identify gaps and develop an action plan.

Walton was hired as executive director at Tampa Bay Works a year ago. She’s had more than two decades of professional experience in workforce and talent development, including serving as director of the National Center for the American Workforce at the National Association of Manufacturers, among other senior-level positions.

After a request for information from area companies, Tampa Bay Works established two employer collaboratives, made up of businesses in industry sectors that often compete with each other, but share common workforce needs. The manufacturing collaborative includes 18 companies representing more than 3,200 employees. A separate healthcare collaborative is made up of eight health systems and companies that collectively employ about 80,000 people.

“We’ve been meeting on a regular monthly basis, going through the talent pipeline management data gathering, which is the process of determining what the demands are, what are our needs, what jobs are the most critical to our businesses and hardest to fill that we’re willing to work on together,” Walton said.

Improve the match

In manufacturing in the Tampa Bay area, the highest demand is for entry-level jobs, Walton said.

Entry-level manufacturing jobs have a salary range between $11 and $14 an hour. The average wage in manufacturing in the region is about $60,000.

The Lealman workshop is designed to improve the potential match between employers’ needs and workers’ abilities and attitudes.

“They’ll have a project, and have to read a blueprint, work in teams and build something. We’ll look for people who ask questions and will work with each other,” Walton said.

Tampa Bay Works will track data, such as whether new employees hired through this process stay on the job longer, as well as the career progression of those new workers. That’s so Tampa Bay Works can tell the stories about the workforce needs and opportunities.

“We have convinced everyone they should go to college and work at Google. A lot of people should, but not everyone. We’re trying to let people know there are options out here,” Walton said.

Walton said she is surprised that a market as large as the Tampa Bay region hasn’t taken this approach previously.

“Talent pipeline management is being offered in about 26 different locations. Nobody [else] in Florida is doing it right now. We’re the first,” Walton said.

Her intent is to create the same talent pipeline management process for other industry sectors.

“The Partnership has a vision of pulling together and creating a region that can compete,” Walton said.

Tampa Bay Works also plans to launch a website,, on Jan. 16.

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