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Roundtable: Talent Development for the Workplace

Author: Tampa Bay Business Journal

July 16, 2021
The article below originally appeared in in the Tampa Bay Business Journal print and digital editions. To view the digital version, click here

More than half of adult Floridians believe they’ll need post-secondary education to improve their lives and prepare for Florida’s future job market. But what will motivate residents to step up to available opportunities?

Area education and business professionals tackled the topic in a roundtable discussion May 25 on Talent Development for the Workplace sponsored by Helios Education Foundation.

“Florida needs to grow talent locally, and it’s important that we ensure more Floridians experience economic opportunity by completing a postsecondary degree,” said Ian Anderson, publisher of the Tampa Bay Business Journal. “That effort also will make Florida more attractive to new businesses.”

Moderator Paul Luna, president and CEO, Helios Education Foundation, said “education changes lives and strengthens communities” and his organization is committed to closing education equity gaps for first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students.

Luna was joined on the panel by Bill Goede, Bank of America President, Tampa Bay, along with higher education professionals Dr. Mark Rosenberg, president, Florida International University; Dr. Tonjua Williams, president, St. Petersburg College; and Charleita Richardson, executive director, Florida College Access Network (FCAN).

“Some conversations question the value of a four-year degree, but Helios research last year found that 54% of Floridians believe a degree or higher is essential to success in Florida’s future labor market,” Luna said. “In fact, 58% of Blacks and 65% of Hispanics noted a bachelor’s degree is needed for future success. Despite that, attainment of a post-secondary degree among minority students lags behind non-minority students.”

FCAN supports Florida’s “SAIL to 60” initiative, which aims to increase the number of working-age Floridians with a degree or workforce-relevant credential from the current 53% to 60% by 2030, Richardson said.

But it’s important to do a deep dive on the data to see where the opportunities lie, she added. By 2030, 54% of the adults of working age will be non-white, which means race and ethnicity will play a big role in the conversation. Today, 30.8% of Black Floridians and 37% of Hispanic Floridians have degrees, compared to 46.1% of White Floridians.

Currently, 53% of working-age Floridians hold a postsecondary degree or credential, while economic indicators estimate that 65% of Florida jobs will require a degree or credential by 2025.

“If we’re ever going to hit the Sail to 60 goal, we need to get realistic about the data and use it to influence our decisions,” Richardson said. “We have to build a bridge to collaboration between the colleges, universities, businesses and the K-12 system because that will help us close that degree attainment gap. But I’m optimistic that we’re going to hit the goal.”

Panelists agreed that more collaboration will be key to reaching the goal and providing talent for Florida’s future workforce.

Dr. Rosenburg said FIU already has a strong partnership with Miami-Dade County public schools that has helped eliminate bottlenecks in providing services.

“We probably have the most aggressive dual enrollment partnership anywhere, with nearly 8,000 public school students enrolled at FIU,” he said. “It sends the message to students in all zip codes that we expect them to get a post-secondary education, starting in their own high school, and I’m really proud of that.”

The successful acceleration program saved students about $3.2 million in college costs two years ago, Dr. Rosenburg added.

The university established a Connect for Success program to help students who don’t believe they have the talent for college to transition seamlessly to FIU after completing state college courses; and created a “last-mile scholarship”, with Helios funding, to help students facing financial shortfalls to complete their degrees.

To assist some of the nearly 10,000 homeless and foster kids in Miami-Dade County, FIU developed the Fostering Panther Pride program to give eligible students a full college education through a combination of federal and state support and housing.

“There are many different challenges here, but as an urban public institution, we are committed to getting students through college and finding them a great job,” Dr. Rosenburg said.

St Petersburg College President, Dr. Wiliams, said K-12 students in zip codes identified as high poverty zones by the Florida Chamber of Commerce need additional support to ensure they know what opportunities are available.

“We know that a parent in poverty is a child in poverty so we need to get that parent up to par so they can be successful and help their child move forward,” she said. “We are hoping to get them to start looking at where their lives are and where they want to go.”

St. Petersburg College also offers a dual enrollment program for high schoolers that does not require a 3.0 GPA. Students have an opportunity to get the college experience, earn college credits early and realize they can go to college. In addition, St. Petersburg College is working closely with technical school programs to provide students who finish an auto mechanic class with automatic credits to help build a talent pipeline for the region.

Ultimately, the No. 1 goal of Florida colleges is to get students to transfer to other higher education institutions like FIU to make sure they move forward, she said.

“It’s important to create transfer pathways for students to leave the community college and transition with ease to universities,” Dr. Williams said. “More Florida universities have added these kinds of programs to ensure that students of color have champions at both institutions, and they’re graduating at a record rate and doing very well.”

In Florida, students with an associate degree from a state college are guaranteed admission to a four-year public university, but maybe not the program they prefer, Dr. Williams said. St. Petersburg College’s partnership with universities like the University of Florida, Florida A&M and the University of South Florida allows students to get into the specific program they want.

“They’re getting the best of both worlds and almost have one foot at the state college and one at the university,” she said. Students in the FUSE program with USF get a “Titan to Bull” T-shirt showing mascots from both schools. They have access to both the state college and the university for tutoring and support and can move seamlessly through the process toward their career journeys.

It just means Florida colleges need to be more creative in their admissions policies, Dr. Williams said, and look at programs in a different way than what they currently do.

St. Petersburg College has agreements with K-12 schools that allow students to take courses for college credit and other programs that build more technical training for students without high school diplomas. The goal is to welcome more people into college to gain the skills they need for better economic opportunities.

Goede said Bank of America has committed $25 million to help employer partners and institutions of higher learning – including four in Florida – develop a clear and defined pathway to growth jobs for Black and Hispanic/Latino students.

“We want to show students who may have been told they can’t work at a financial institution that they have a pathway,” he said. “Stopping that narrative and showing them what they need to do and how they can link their passion and purpose with different opportunities at Bank of America is important.”

Residents looking for a good living wage can look to Bank of America, which recently committed to increasing minimum wage for employees from $20 to $25 by 2025, Goede said, and offers tuition assistance programs to encourage employees to continue their education.

Goede suggested that businesses share with universities the job openings they expect to have in 12, 18 or 24 months and what attributes students will need to successfully fill those roles. “That might be more challenging, but employers can work on upskilling with training once they hire someone,” he said. “That’s where the retention of associates, the career path and the economic growth opportunities lie.”

He reflected on his own start in banking 32 years ago where he is sure he didn’t have the necessary skills. But someone saw potential for him to rise with additional training and enjoy a long and successful career.

Dr. Rosenburg agreed, saying the business community needs to raise its expectations for what education can and should be doing, calling it a 19th and 20th Century education model being used to support a 21st Century economy.

And he proposed that the entire community work harder to close the digital divide. “We’re not going to level the playing field or uplift our communities unless we can figure out how to get more and better bandwidth and machine capabilities into those communities,” he said.

Richardson said FCAN takes a multi-pronged approach to building educational equity in the community. Its local college access networks (LCAN) connect leaders across numerous regions to create solutions for local talent development. Their partners include K-12 school districts, colleges and universities, career and technical colleges and non-profit organizations along with businesses, government and philanthropic agencies.

Another FCAN program teaches educators how to guide the students. Centered around the four Es – Expose, Explore, Experiment and Execute – Plan It Florida starts in middle school to build a workable foundation and then helps students visualize their next steps. Additionally, FCAN launched the Talent Strong Florida Initiative in late 2020 to help the future workforce build resilience and remain competitive in a global economy.

“We want to ensure there’s prosperity for Florida’s families so we’re more resilient from inevitable disruptions,” Richardson said. “If COVID-19 hasn’t taught us anything else, it showed us that things change fast so we have to learn to rebound, recover and continue to build the economy.”

Economic opportunity, the type facilitated by a postsecondary education, is critical to our community. As we strive to grow the number of community members who secure a degree or high-quality credential, partnerships are an important key to that progress said Dr. Williams. The educational ecosystem needs to attach itself to workforce partners or it will “die on the vine.” Businesses have jobs ready, but educational institutions do not have training ready to build the talent pipeline."

Partnerships are an important key to progress, Dr. Williams said. The educational ecosystem needs to attach itself to workforce partners or it will “die on the vine.” Businesses have jobs ready, but educational institutions do not have training ready to build the talent pipeline.

“Until we sit down with them and talk about what’s coming down the pike, we won’t be ready,” she said. “What new jobs arose from COVID? We need our partners to co-create the curriculum with us to make sure we’re offering what they need.”

One of the biggest challenges she outlined was the lack of awareness and a sense of fear in minority communities about educational and job opportunities.

“Individuals like myself who started in poverty and can identify with them need to be willing to speak up and say that it’s not where you start but whether you finish,” Dr. Williams said. “And we have to be proud of the experience we’ve had enough to say this is my passion and it’s why I worked so hard.”

She proposed “coming from behind the desk” and spending time in underserved communities to share information and bring more people in. “Can you imagine if Bank of America and St. Petersburg College went to that poverty zip code and brought FCAN and did something to say to residents they can get those degrees and here’s how?”

But the job doesn’t end when students are through the university door, Dr. Williams said, because some students need continued support throughout their journey. St. Petersburg College introduces them to new areas of learning and new ways of doing things, makes them aware of resources like food pantries or clothing closets and even bus passes and mental health assistance that they may not seek on their own.

Luna concluded the panel discussion by emphasizing “education is an investment and not an expense; it’s an investment in our students, our community, and our future workforce.” The partnerships and programs discussed today can help drive the state’s economic future by ensuring more Floridians are prepared to meet the needs of employers now and in the future as our economy expands.

“It really comes down to ensuring that all individuals – regardless of their background – have access to education and post-secondary success because we know how tied that is to future jobs and the workforce we need,” said Paul Luna. “We’re all in this together.”

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