Innovation leads the list at 2014 State of the Workforce Tampa Bay event

StateoftheWorkforce_2Innovation in attracting and keeping talent, and technology skills were the lead topics of discussion at the annual State of the Workforce Tampa Bay event, held at the Grand Hyatt Tuesday.

Two panels – one featuring employers and the other, educators – highlighted the event Tuesday afternoon.

When asked by moderator Alexis Muellner, Editor-in-Chief of the Tampa Bay Business Journal, what they needed in their employees in the coming year, individuals with high technical skills led the list.

“It’s been somewhat of a struggle for us to find those people who have those high technical skills,” Jack Kolosky, Executive Vice President/CEO of Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute, said.

University of South Florida President, Dr. Judy Genshaft, added, “We’re always looking for IT folks because those are the ones that are snatched up from us and hired away.”

In addition to those with technical skills, employers are also seeking those with an innate ability to innovate and lead change.

“There’s a lack of people who can drive change through innovation,” Bob Dutkowsky, CEO of Tech Data, said. “Secondly, there’s a steel cage, death match, open battle over talent. We have to have people that are driven, focused, technically talented and driven to achieve.”

Genshaft is also looking for talent at USF. “We want people who are able to think and change and move, as the university does.”

The employers agreed that the community has to do a better job of telling Tampa Bay’s story in order to attract and keep top talent in the workforce, even though Paul Anderson, President of Tampa Port Authority, feels progress is being made in that area.

“We are doing a better job of telling the story,” Anderson said. “I feel that Tampa is really starting to find that wind in its sails and starting to be able to bring in some diverse organizations.”

Tony DiBenedetto, Chairman and CEO of Tribridge, disagrees. “I think we’ve undersold. Why can’t we sell the business community on the great Moffitt cancer center, the great universities…we need to tell that story.”

Once they are able to attract talent through the door, employers sometimes find it difficult to retain them.

“It’s way too easy for people like us to get involved in the board meetings and forget about the people who are really doing all the work, so we have to think about that,” Kolosky said. “Listen to [your employees] – what works, what doesn’t, how can they contribute their ideas. People need to feel like they are part of a team, like they’re part of something bigger.”

Employees also want the ability to better themselves, according to Dutkowsky. In order to facilitate that, Tech Data offers tuition reimbursement in return for a time commitment from employees.

The panel also discussed the widening skills gap, in which prospective employees may have the personality and work ethic to do a job, but are 10 to 20 years behind in skills. They say the focus must be on closing the gap and being innovative in doing so.

Solutions for fixing that came from the Educator panel, which consisted of Dave Barnes, Executive Director of the Office of Career Technical & Adult Education at Pinellas County Schools; Scott Brooks, General Director of Career, Technical & Adult Education at Hillsborough County Public Schools; Dr. Ginger Clark, Vice President of Workforce Development at Hillsborough Community College; and Dr. William Law, Jr., President of St. Petersburg College.

To close the skills gap, particularly for the under- or unemployed, Law said St. Petersburg College created Learn to Earn. Learn to Earn features a deconstructed, repackaged curriculum. “Right now we can get you skills necessary for jobs in short order,” Law said. “We not have 3,500 people coming through our Learn to Earn program each year.”

Clark has a similar program at Hillsborough Community College. “We’re running boot camps so people can come in and skill up very quickly. The other thing we’re doing with some of our technical/vocational programs – many people out there don’t have their high school diploma yet – so we’re concurrently enrolling them.”

Clark also added that it is important to be a leader in workforce. “It’s not just about responding to what’s in front of you, it’s about taking initiative and projecting.”

Educators are also working to close the skills gap for younger generations, via work-based learning opportunities.

“Even things as simple as shadowing where our students can get out and see first hand what happens in a particular industry…any kind of work-based exposure where we can get the kid out of the school and into the business is essential,” Barnes said.

Barnes and Brooks said pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs in their school districts are on the rise.

The educators closed the event by saying their doors are always open to businesses.

“I hear a lot that businesses and industries don’t feel welcome in our schools,” Barnes said. “If you haven’t heard from us, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and contact us. We want to partner with you.”

Brooks added, “Plug in and find a way to let us get the employees you need into your companies.”

The event was presented by Tampa Bay WorkForce Alliance and WorkNet Pinellas, in partnership with Feeding Children Everywhere and Tampa Bay Business Journal.