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Workforce development is key to shared prosperity

Esther Matthews



Image: Dreamstime.

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By nearly all accounts, Pinellas County’s economy is prospering right now. The Florida Chamber of Commerce records that we have added more than 22,000 new jobs in the last year and issued 1,199 new housing permits. Additionally, Pinellas County’s GDP outpaced the nation in 2022.

However, economic indicators like these don’t guarantee that this is shared prosperity. As a small business owner who has invested my time and treasure in the South St. Pete area for decades, I know it takes a special focus on communities that have been historically under-resourced and neglected to ensure that my neighbors are experiencing the same growth as the rest of our region.

While the job vacancy rate in Pinellas County is remarkably high, with 65 unemployed people for every 100 job vacancies, part of the solution to filling these vacancies must be to ensure that our job seekers have the skills and qualifications that match these positions. During Workforce Development Month this September, this issue deserves our attention, and the groups working to meet this community need deserve our acknowledgment and thanks.

Of the 100 fastest growing occupations in Pinellas County through 2030, 78 of the jobs require post-secondary training ranging from a non-degree credential to a graduate degree. Workforce organizations in our community make this type of employment possible for our residents that may have barriers. Specifically, CareerSource Pinellas can help Pinellas County residents who want to go back to school or earn a new credential pursue funding to offset the cost of training or career educational programs.

Through my experience as a civil rights advocate with the NAACP, and my consulting practice focused on professional development and operations support for small businesses, I have seen CareerSource Pinellas demonstrate a commitment to shared growth and prosperity for all Pinellas County residents. I am proud to be a voice for the South St. Pete community on the CareerSource Pinellas board.

As the designated workforce development board for Pinellas County, the CareerSource team has invested in programs and forged partnerships in response to specific challenges facing local job seekers. For example, while nationally we struggle to return to the pre-COVID youth labor participation rate, this summer CareerSource Pinellas held its largest-ever Summer PAYS program, with 173 high school students and young adults gaining paid work experience. Just as important, we have 90 local employers representing Pinellas County’s most demanded industries who should be commended for partnering with CareerSource Pinellas to give these young people a chance to learn more about the workforce.

After completing the program, these young people now have real-world job experience, new relationships with local employers, financial literacy training from Bank of America, and soft skills training from Florida Ready to Work. The program has more than doubled in size since 2019.

CareerSource Pinellas has also demonstrated a serious commitment to ensuring that people who have been involved with the criminal justice system get a real second chance to rejoin the workforce and earn a living for themselves and their families. By partnering with the Pinellas Ex-offender Re-entry Coalition (PERC), CareerSource Pinellas has provided funding to place several cohorts of people who have completed their sentences with local employers.

Nearly all of the job candidates have successfully completed the companies’ probation periods, and are thriving in their new roles, with some even earning promotions. And during a time of low unemployment, many businesses found an employee pipeline they didn’t realize was possible. CareerSource Pinellas also works hand-in-hand with the Pinellas Recovery Roundtable, providing a workforce development perspective to the substance use recovery ecosystem as we fight the opioid epidemic which has harmed so many families and neighborhoods.

The issue of workforce development and training should remain a top focus if we want to build on and sustain this robust growth throughout all the communities of Pinellas County. Thanks to the St. Pete Catalyst for its coverage of the people and organizations putting in the work.  

Esther Matthews is president of NAACP St. Petersburg, president and CEO of All Administrative Solutions and a board member of CareerSource Pinellas.


1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Maya Thomas

    September 21, 2023at1:22 am

    Thank you for your story. I am a business owner in the community and would like to know how I can partner with the Workforce Board to help the youths in our community? I provide job training in the beauty industry, and the construction industry.

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