Commentary: Building Better Opportunities for the Workforce•
Fabiola Brumley, Palm Beach Market President/Southeast Regional Executive for Bank of America
Today, Palm Beach County’s economic engine is in gear — and on track for continued improvement. Unemployment is down markedly from a year ago, as job opportunities continue to come on line. And this summer, Forbes magazine named West Palm Beach the top city in Florida for business. But while we have made important economic progress, including on the jobs front, vital work remains to be done. Consider, for instance, that unemployment in the county still hovers above 6 percent, and actually increased between June and July.
Fortunately, dedicated nonprofit organizations and government-funded experts specializing in workforce development and skills training are on the case. And increasingly, businesses are recognizing the urgent need to support them.
Of course, getting work for everyone in our county requires a personal commitment and real effort from those on the hunt for a job. But it also takes coordination across the community and contributions from every sphere, including government, businesses, educators, and local support groups. The need for this cooperative approach is clear: In order for companies to thrive and for individuals to find good work at a meaningful wage, job descriptions must align with the skills available within our community. This kind of perfect connection between what organizations need and what people have to offer does not occur automatically, and making it happen is not easy.
This is where workforce development comes into the picture. Government and nonprofit-driven programs here and across the country — including skills training and continuing education programs — are providing workers with the tools and learning they need to succeed. While the idea of workforce development as a central component of economic growth is not new, it is receiving a new boost and greater attention as we move deeper into the digitally driven, 21st-century marketplace. The skills required of employees in a range of sectors, from manufacturing and construction to science and technology positions, are evolving with new technological advancements, and our workforce needs to evolve at the same time.
The benefits of workforce development programs are especially clear for those who are struggling to make ends meet, either because they are unemployed or working in low-wage positions. Today, the ranks of those facing financial strain is on the rise. Opportunity Nation’s 2013 Opportunity Index found that 49 states saw an increase in the percentage of their population living below the federal poverty line, while 45 reported a drop in median household income. Skills training and continuing education can help reverse this trend, while putting long-term financial success within reach for thousands.
Ultimately, new training programs will not just assist those individuals looking for work, or those existing Palm Beach County companies seeking to hire; a more skilled workforce will serve as a virtual welcome mat for new businesses looking to relocate and expand here. This basic economic reality holds great promise for everyone in our community
Federal financial assistance, along with state funding, administered through the Florida’s CareerSource boards and offices, are driving growth in workforce development programs. And today, companies are contributing directly to the cause as well, recognizing the tremendous value in both good corporate citizenship and in building a better workforce.
The work of the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County is a good example. With the grant money they receive from Bank of America along with a matching grant from the state, they hire AmeriCorps volunteers who work with juniors and seniors in high schools across the county to help them fulfill their obligations for graduation. Last year, 81 percent of the seniors who received this assistance graduated. A higher graduation rate means better prepared future employees, the potential for more college-bound high school seniors, and a stronger workforce. In the end, successful skills training and continuing education programs represent a critical step on the path to stronger economic prospects for all of us.