Veto of skills training grant jeopardizes area’s high-tech, high-wage job growth
Less than a year ago, the Tampa Bay Technology Forum was hearing from dozens of employers here who had hundreds of open positions for high-tech jobs they could not fill. The reason? A major skills gap existed in the region’s information technology workforce. To make matters worse, these companies needed employees who could be productive from Day One. This effectively shut out lots of new college grads who needed a little training and experience as well as those whose tech skills had become obsolete. Our hard-won, high-tech industry growth was seriously threatened. Tech companies started opening offices elsewhere and even considered relocating to markets that could support their growth by offering a more highly skilled talent pool. Clearly, we had — and still have — much to lose if this IT skills gap persists.Flash forward to today. TBTF, the region’s economic development organizations and workforce alliances spent months surveying employers to learn what skills were needed. The IT Workforce Skills Gap Analysis, released in the fall, was hailed throughout the state for its identification of a threat to Florida’s economic growth, its practical recommendations for solving the problem, and its implementation plan that included programs and training that would make students graduating more employable in the industry. The amount needed to fund these programs is $332,000, which really isn’t much when you consider the millions of dollars the state has doled out in incentives over the years to companies promising to create hundreds of jobs — and failing to do so. In this situation, we have growing companies that are already here, and that want to hire locally but can’t find the right talent. This modest funding request would help to equip hundreds of Tampa Bay area residents with the skills and experience they need to land good-paying jobs and allow companies to grow faster and hire even more. Not surprisingly, legislators in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties enthusiastically support the grant. It’s a win for business, universities, and the workforce. Which is why it makes no sense that our “jobs governor,” Rick Scott, vetoed the whole thing. The Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance grant, had it passed, would have funded exploratory labs where university students would work on case studies uploaded from businesses with local tech professionals to get essential hands-on skills training and the minimal experience employers require. It would have funded technology internship initiatives to connect students directly with employers who wanted to take the time to nurture their skills and potentially hire them upon graduation. These specific interventions would have provided specifically needed training and direct access to employers — something that goes way beyond telling someone to go and get a new certification and start a job search all over again. The goal was to have these students step right into jobs they’d been groomed to do right upon graduation. TBTF and our partners are not about to quit. We intend to find another way to continue the work we know is absolutely critical to our region’s ability to develop and retain a highly skilled workforce. It’s too bad that the man whose mantra is “jobs, jobs, jobs” has decided to make that harder for his constituents in the Tampa Bay region.
Heather Kenyon is CEO of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum.