During what we nowadays call “the Great Recession,” household wealth in our region suffered tremendously – families’ net worth dropped 18%. We have come a long way since then, and even though families are still recuperating their wealth, drive around the County and look at what’s happening on the streets: new construction, busy restaurants, shoppers carrying bags. The economic engine is rumbling and the region has a very positive outlook. And achieving that outlook requires understanding our current situation and preparing our workforce for the opportunities ahead.
Let’s start by looking at our current situation. Based on Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity’s employment report for the month of May 2017, our unemployment rate is approximately 4.3%. This represents 12,579 unemployed residents, and presents evidence that our labor force has gained employment consistently over the last five years.
While the reemployment in our region is encouraging, there are other areas that require our attention. According to the 2017 – 2020 Florida & Metro Forecast report issued by the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida, our region is expected to show modest levels of growth in most economic indicators. For instance, the per capita income level is expected to average $37,800, and the employment growth rate is expected to average 1.9% each year. These numbers pose an opportunity for improvement, especially considering the expected employment growth rate for the state is 4.7%. For that reason, we need economic development organizations, with the community at large, to work together to determine ways to improve the average income, while helping businesses achieve their goals. Making this happen requires well-coordinated workforce development efforts and an apt and willing workforce.
Further analyzing our current situation, our largest businesses, by number of employees, fall within one of three categories: local government, healthcare, or higher education. The number one employer is the Volusia County Schools, with 7,503 employees. From the top ten employers, only one is a private business that is not within the three major categories mentioned above – Frontier Communications, with 800 employees. Again, this presents an opportunity for the region to foster growth in new and more diverse industries.
We are a region known for nationally-recognized events, like Bike Week, Race Week, and particularly the Daytona 500. At the same time, we are a region where 61% of jobs are in the service industry, which mean 61% of our jobs are automatable. In an era of digitalization, streamlining of services, and automation, this statistic should be carefully considered in our plans for growth.
Knowing where we stand, we need to continue conversations and carefully analyze economic data to determine which local industries have the greatest potential for growth and which ones bring the most economic benefit to the region. Then we need to help businesses in these industries grow. For example, CareerSource Flagler Volusia, the local workforce development board, provides relevant HR services to businesses including: job postings, coordination of recruitment events, training financial aid, career assessments, internships, upskilling workers. On average 60 businesses receive these services each month.
One of the big questions we need to ask ourselves is, “How do we move forward without leaving anyone behind?” How do we transition workers from industries that have declining labor forces to others with better growth opportunities?
Our objective as a region is to guide local workers to careers. To this effect, one of CareerSource FV’s objectives is to stop only brokering jobs between businesses and job seekers. We will also identify and match careers between the two. The difference may sound trivial – after all, embarking workers in careers means getting them jobs. The distinction is that jobs merely offer short-term solutions for businesses and employees. Careers paths on the other hand are long-term oriented. They empower workers to gain skills and experience that can be used beyond a single job. Finding the right careers for workers increases productivity and reduces instances where workers must be retained. Businesses benefit from this approach greatly, as it reduces their turnover and corresponding training costs.
Focusing on career development (not job placement) also helps reduce the number of underemployed workers. Focusing on this target group is important because it is not useful to achieve a low unemployment rate, like 4.3% today, if the average income in the region is low, like $37,800. If we help the underemployed workers achieve their maximum potential in both productivity and income, the local economy will improve tremendously.
We are presenting a solid and viable strategy. But like any other strategy, it is subject to environmental forces. For that reason, one of the most important skills we can instill in our labor force is life-long learning. Life-long learning is the ability, and disposition, to never stop learning, looking to seek knowledge beyond formal education. This will make our workers more adaptable to the interesting and unexpected changes ahead.
Our region is poised for great things. Now it’s up to us to make the best of our situation and our resources. Together, we can turn this area into one of the most prosperous in the country.