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Tampa Bay workforce development initiative looks to Houston for lessons

The biggest hospitals in Houston had a problem.

To earn a prized institutional certification, they needed more nurses with bachelor of science degrees in nursing.

But local colleges were more focused on turning out nurses with two-year degrees who, to their shock, couldn’t land the jobs they needed or wanted.

That kind of mismatch was one reason Houston’s business community launched an initiative to make sure employers were communicating clearly with educators about what their needs were, and what degrees, certifications or skills job candidates needed.

It worked — and a similar group from the Tampa Bay area has noticed.

A delegation of 15 bay area business executives, college and university administrators, nonprofit leaders and representatives of the nonprofit Tampa Bay Partnership went to Houston for two days this week to seek insights for the partnership’s own recently launched initiative to better develop and align local talent with employer needs.

Nurturing workforce talent has been a priority for the partnership since last year, when the organization commissioned an ambitious "Regional Competitiveness Report" for bay area.

Business leaders were "somewhat alarmed," partnership president and CEO Rick Homans said Friday, when the report found that the region lagged many other metro areas when it came to measures such as educational attainment, labor force participation and the number of disconnected youth in the area.

"It was a real wake-up call to the business leaders around the table," he said. "It struck us that we’ve got an issue with the talent pipeline in Tampa Bay, and if we’re going to be competitive and increase our level of prosperity, we have to focus on our talent."

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What the bay area delegation heard about the history of the same problem in Houston sounded familiar.

"It’s really tough to go around this community without speaking to an employer who doesn’t have some sort of labor need," said C.J. Mintrone, a senior vice president at PNC Bank.

But UpSkill Houston, a wide-ranging, industry-led collaboration, held lessons for the visitors from Florida.

Generally, UpSkill Houston organizers concluded, prospective applicants — high school students, college students, young adults — need good, clear information early on about what jobs employers need to fill and what they need to have to compete.

For the petrochemical industry, that led to the creation of a web site where students can chart out, step by step, their path to good-paying jobs. It also led Houston school officials in dozens of smaller independent districts to coordinate their curriculums, offering students five distinct educational tracks in high school.

In the bay area, the Tampa Bay Partnership’s initiative is being fueled by a $300,000 two-year grant from JP Morgan & Chase. The financial services firm also supported Houston’s initiative, which used the same consulting firm that is working with the Tampa Bay Partnership.

RELATED: JPMorgan & Chase invests $300,000 to Tampa Bay Partnership

Bay area leaders are looking at several areas where they could adopt some of Houston’s approaches, including health care, manufacturing, information technology, hospitality and commercial and industrial construction.

Organizers expect research to continue until Oct. 1. They’ll work on a strategy through December and will look to launch their initiative in the first quarter of next year.

"I think what we really brought back was the opportunity for some great things we can do in Tampa Bay," said attorney Rhea Law, who chairs the Tampa Bay Partnership’s governing council.

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Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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