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FutureMakers Coalition hosts annual Champions Meeting

Goal to transform Southwest Florida’s workforce

By Staff | Sep 18, 2023

Dawn Belamarich & Dr. Mike Martin PROVIDED

The 2023 Annual FutureMakers Coalition Champions Meeting was held in person at Collaboratory and virtually on Thursday, Sept. 14 with more than 120 participating in person and 131 viewing virtually.

FutureMakers Coalition aims to transform Southwest Florida’s workforce by increasing the proportion of working age adults with college degrees, workforce certificates, industry certifications and other high-quality credentials to 55 percent by 2025. Now in its ninth year, the Coalition has grown to over 150 cross-sector partner organizations and more than 260 community leaders representing business, education, government, nonprofits, philanthropy, residents, and students across Glades, Hendry, Collier, Lee, and Charlotte counties. Sixty percent of the partner organizations have changed policies or practices because of their work with the coalition.

Chaired by Dr. Christopher Bernier and Noemi Perez, this year’s event, themed Talent Lives Here, included an overview and highlights of FutureMakers work and successes in the past year; a keynote address by Mark Wilson, Florida Chamber of Commerce; as well as presentations on building rural learning systems in Hendry County; Stop Out Programs by FGCU and FSW; supporting workforce readiness by Lee Health and Shell Point; manufacturing career pathways; Workforce Now’s SWFL report; SWFL Equitable Jobs Pipeline; Gerri Moll, Bank of America; and Mike Boose, Arthrex.

“We’ve got a problem. About 70 percent of Florida’s jobs are going to require a credential beyond high school by 2025 and we don’t have the skilled workers to get there. We also have a large number of residents that are about to retire or are currently retiring out of the system every single day and we don’t have the skilled workers to replace them,” said Tessa LeSage, FutureMakers director, Collaboratory, which is serving as the backbone organization for the FutureMakers Coalition. “We are trying to create solutions for those that are already in the pipeline and trying to change the pipeline that’s producing our workforce. No single entity can solve a big social problem on its own. This system requires us to work together to change our policies or practices, the things that have not evolved to the changing community and contexts that we’re living in today.”

Since 2013, FutureMakers Coalition has helped increase the percentage of qualified workers with needed education or training from 39 percent to 43.7 percent.

Keitha Daniels & Jon Romine PROVIDED

During the event, Justin Saarinen, client service leader for CDM Smith, an employee-owned, engineering and construction firm, presented a check for $25,000 to FutureMakers Coalition for their ongoing work in the region.

“It all started with a call to a FutureMakers Navigator,” he said. “We are committed to providing smart solutions in water environment, transportation, energy and facilities to help address the world’s environmental and infrastructural challenges. We very much need talented and skilled workers so that we can continue to help future proof southwest Florida and grow the strength of future innovators and leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

In 2021, Bank of America granted $300,000 to further FutureMakers Coalition’s goal of transforming Southwest Florida’s workforce. Through the grant and other funding, FutureMakers Coalition Navigators were created and began requesting and seeking referrals to connect adults needing training programs to acquire better paying jobs as well as students who previously attended college but did not complete a credential or certification. These referrals are called Reconnectors.

“Navigators are here to help adults who need to reconnect with education or training to get into well-paying jobs to change their lives, to change the lives of their families and hopefully to help build our workforce, build our businesses and grow a strong economy,” said LeSage. “Navigators are there to remove barriers. They’re there to help make the system work for a group of people that the system currently isn’t 100 percent designed for. Navigators walk alongside them to make sure that it’s working as best as it can to get them their credential and into a job.”

According to LeSage, last year they had 210 Reconnectors that they were serving through the Navigator program. Today they are over 1,200.

Tessa LeSage and John Lai PROVIDED

Workforce Now, a regional research initiative to identify current and future talent requirements for the five counties of Southwest Florida, presented highlights from their annual Educational and Workforce Outcomes Report. Findings indicate that of the 446,228 workers reported in 2022, retail trade was the largest industry, with 17 percent of all workers in the region. Accommodation and food services was the next largest industry (14.1 percent), followed by construction (13.8 percent) and health care and social assistance (13.8 percent). Retail trade and accommodation and food services were also among the lowest paying jobs in the region, with average annual wages of $41,500 and $30,946 respectively. The average annual wage for all industries in Southwest Florida was $56,735 in 2022, up 6.5 percent from 2021. Construction was by far the fastest growing industry in 2022, with employment growing by over 10,000 since 2018. Professional and Technical Services had the next highest growth (5,977 employment increase), followed by Health Care and Social Assistance (4,823 employment increase), Administrative and Waste Services (4,440 employment increase), and Manufacturing (2,627 employment increase). Construction is projected to see the highest average annual growth between 2022 and 2030, growing by 1,283 jobs over the next eight years. Health Care and Social Assistance had the next highest average annual growth (1,271 new jobs), followed by Accommodation and Food Services (824 new jobs), Government (699 new jobs) and Professional, Scientific and Technical Services (587 new jobs).

Workforce Now is comprised of researchers from Florida Gulf Coast University and Florida SouthWestern State College, both FutureMakers Coalition partners. The full study can be downloaded at fgcu.edu.

The Champions Team plays a pivotal role in the Coalition’s success. Team members include regional leaders who have the ability to create a stronger workforce and vibrant economy by improving cradle-to-career opportunities for students, offering job training and certifications, employee educational incentives and more.

FutureMakers Coalition has been designated a Talent Hub by Lumina Foundation in partnership with The Kresge Foundation to support local efforts to increase educational attainment. Formed in 2015 around existing regional collaborations, the Coalition is committed to creating a cradle-to-career pathway to ensure success for traditional students and adult learners. FutureMakers Coalition was one of Lumina Foundation’s 75 national Community Partners in Attainment and is a member of the National Talent Network. Collaboratory provides backbone/administrative support to FutureMakers Coalition.

FutureMakers Coalition encourages businesses to join and invest in sustaining this community-changing initiative by visiting futuremakerscoalition.com or emailing Tessa LeSage at tlesage@collaboratory.org.

Yamilette Madera, Elizabeth Longwell, Dawn Belamarich & Luz Martinez PROVIDED

Source: FutureMakers Coalition

Kim Williams & Joey Sylla PROVIDED

The FGCU FutureMakers team. PROVIDED

Yamilette Madera, Gerri Moll, Elizabeth Longwell & Luz Martinez PROVIDED

Dr. Christopher Bernier & Jeannine Joy PROVIDED