Closing the skills gap will Open a brighter future for Brevard County | Opinion – Florida Today

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Rob Landers, Florida Today

Connecting people with good, high-paying jobs is hard work. We believe it is a task that our community is certainly up for, but it will require increased support and contributions from individuals and businesses across Brevard County.

When it comes to helping our residents access the education and skills they need to excel, the stakes have never been higher, and the benefits have never been more evident. The pandemic has disrupted the job market and created new career possibilities for those with the right training. At the same time, larger demographic trends, like the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, translate into significant new prospects for younger people entering the workforce.

But while the opportunities are expanding, the challenges remain the same: how can we support those young people most at risk of falling into the cycle of poverty and low-paying jobs? How can we increase access to post-secondary education, skills training and certification programs, and ultimately the careers of the future?

Elevate Brevard and Bank of America suggest a strong roadmap forward, one written when community groups and businesses join forces for progress. Elevate Brevard is a partnership of community organizations and the Florida College Access Network, with a mission to identify and assist individuals in households living below the Federal Poverty Level, as well as those in the ALICE population, or “working poor,” as defined by United Way.

By increasing college and credential attainment rates, Elevate Brevard’s goal is to close the skills gap and bring families out of poverty, beginning in Cocoa and extending across the county. Bank of America is a critical supporter of Elevate Brevard and has worked in local communities across Florida and the nation to promote workforce development on multiple fronts. The company connects people with jobs, advocating for youth employment, alternative education and new training initiatives.

The road forward will require more partnerships, more contributions from businesses, and a broader commitment across our community to help more people attain post-secondary education and training. Today, employers are actively searching for workers with specific skills, especially technical and financial skills – in computer programming, web development, data management, and accounting for example. We need to prepare new job seekers for the demands and opportunities of today’s economy – and tomorrow’s economy. Consider the fact that, according to the Florida College Access Network, 65% of all jobs will require a degree or credential by 2025, and you can see the urgent need for workforce development programs.

More: ‘Historically unprecedented’: Brevard unemployment rate declines to 2.5% in March

More: With low unemployment rate, Brevard employers struggle to fill job openings

Consider also that here in Brevard County, pockets of poverty exist in the shadow of some of the most significant aerospace companies in the world, and you can see the incredible potential for change.

The aerospace industry is, in fact, an excellent example of both the opportunities and challenges facing workforce development advocates and the many people we aim to help. Well before the pandemic, the Aerospace Industries Association identified a serious skills gap that could mean thousands of high paying jobs with no one to fill them in the future. That is partly because the industry’s workforce is older and moving rapidly into retirement, but it is also due to a lack of focus on the specific post-secondary training needed, and an overall deficit in STEM education. COVID-19 has hastened the trends, with early retirements and career changes fueling a shortage of talent.

While aerospace companies need engineers, they also rely on IT specialists, administrative staff, skilled aviation maintenance teams, marketing experts, and more. But each of these areas require post-secondary degrees or specific certifications, and helping young students attain these requirements takes time, energy and resources. And the same goes for high-paying jobs across business sectors. In the end, however, the investments we make now will pay dividends well into the future – for everyone in the community.

By ending the cycle of poverty, and by giving people the tools they need to lift themselves into better careers, we are establishing a strong economic and social foundation for our common benefit. This is something everyone should agree to support.

Peter Mannino is the President of Bank of America East Central Florida; Synthia Doaks is the Director of Elevate Brevard. Elevate Brevard is a collaboration of community partners working together to elevate the lives of Cocoa residents by increasing their access to post-secondary educational opportunities and sustainable employment.

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