From Pensacola to Tallahassee and all points in between the buzzwords of the day are “workforce development.”
Ask any economic development executive in the region what their most important priorities are in 2015 and workforce training will be at or near the top of the list.
And for good reason.
Job-rich companies with big bucks can locate just about anywhere they choose. And companies often select communities with large pools of trained workers with “in-demand” skills.
The good news for the Pensacola community is that everyone with a stake in the local economy “gets it” — from academic institutions, to local government to the private sector.
The only question is: Who’s driving the bus?
Enter the Community Economic Development Association.
This newly formed economic development agency, which spun off from the Greater Pensacola Chamber last year, is taking the lead in bringing near-term focus and long-term strategy to the many workforce programs actively under way in the Pensacola area.
That task is largely in the hands of Jennifer McFarren, CEDA’s director of workforce development.
Under McFarren’s leadership, CEDA is designing a year-long, communitywide campaign centered around education and workforce development.
“We’re going to act as the neutral party,” McFarren said. “There’s never been a single organization devoted to consolidating our workforce development efforts in the Pensacola community.”
Dubbed Greater Pensacola Career Pathways, the campaign gets its official launch on Feb. 12 at 1:30 p.m. at the Greater Pensacola Chamber, 117 W. Garden St..
The event, hosted by CEDA and the Greater Pensacola Chamber, will feature an impressive array of local agencies and academic leaders, all stakeholders in Workforce Development.
Those organizations include Santa Rosa County Economic Development, CareerSource Escarosa, Escambia County School District, Santa Rosa County School District, George Stone Technical Center, Locklin Tech, Pensacola State College, University of West Florida and several other partners within the community.
Speakers include Malcolm Thomas, superintendent of Escambia County School District; Tim Wyrosdick, superintendent of Santa Rosa County School District; Ed Meadows, Pensacola State College president; and University of West Florida President Judy Bense.
McFarren describes the campaign’s goals as being both short- and long-term.
The short-term effort is centered around working with local academic and technical institutions to meet near-term job training for existing industries, and those industries that are on the immediate horizon.
She cites the approaching need in 2016-2017 and beyond for aircraft maintenance workers and technicians to staff VT Aerospace, a Singapore-based company building a $38 million maintenance facility at Pensacola International Airport.
The long-term goals will focus on helping local academic institutions and participating industries to develop a steady stream of talented, trained workers with “in-demand” skills.
“We have identified eight industry clusters, including aviation, healthcare, and financial services, that demand a high degree of education and training,” McFarren said.
The campaign is designed to educate students, parents, teachers and administrators about the number of viable career opportunities and corresponding training located within our community, McFarren said.
“Our job going forward will be trying to pull all these different workforce programs together and get them to focus on the job skills that will be needed today and in the future,” she said.