By Ken Datzman, Brevard Business News
ROCKLEDGE — The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded an “America’s Promise Grant” to 23 regional workforce partnerships across the nation to support tuition–free education and training for high–demand industries, and CareerSource Brevard led the way in Florida.
The four–year grants are expected to provide more than 21,000 U.S. workers with the skills and credentials they need to enter into, or advance within, target occupations. The grants are valued at $111 million, with more than $4 million heading to the Sunshine State.
CareerSource Brevard was the only workforce board out of 24 in Florida to receive one of the grants, and is now partnering with CareerSource Central Florida to develop an Information Technology Sector Strategy, for an industry where job demand is fast outstripping the supply of available skilled workers.
“Only two entities in Florida received this federal grant and we were the only workforce board,” said Marci Murphy, president of CareerSource Brevard, a regional public–private partnership under CareerSource Florida. “We were very fortunate and we’re very proud of the award. This was a highly competitive grant.”
Florida State College in Jacksonville was the other awardee ($1.8 million) of the American Promise Grant in Florida. CareerSource Brevard received $2.3 million.
The program will use individual assessments to determine the best strategies to successfully move participants into information technology jobs, including accelerated training, longer–term intensive training, and upskilling current employees to meet the demands of these higher–skilled jobs.
CareerSource Brevard is the “lead grant recipient with the sub-recipient being CareerSource Central Florida,” said Judy Blanchard, vice president of industry relations for CareerSource Brevard. The grant funds will be roughly split between the two organizations. “Both organizations have the same goal — to feed the information technology pipeline, while putting the needs of industry at the center of the IT Sector Strategy and involving all the stakeholders — workforce agencies, economic development, education, and government,” said Blanchard.
She added, “I personally believe one of the reasons why our region was awarded an American Promise Grant is because CareerSource Brevard is very sector–strategy specific. We have in place our Manufacturing Sector Strategy and our Health Care Sector Strategy. Now we have our Information Technology Sector Strategy. There is a huge need in the information technology field.”
Sector strategies are industry–led approaches to workforce and economic development that align training to meet employer needs in regional labor markets.
The U.S. tech sector employment grew by nearly 3 percent in 2016, approaching 7 million workers, according to “Cyberstates 2017,” an annual analysis of the nation’s tech industry released by CompTIA, the world’s leading technology association. About 60 percent of the 2016 job gains nationwide occurred in information technology services and custom software services. This category was also responsible for adding the most new tech businesses in 2016 — more than 5,000 companies.
“There are a lot of opportunities in information technology, especially within the cyber security niche,” said Blanchard. “The demand continues to grow in that arena.”
In fact, employment of information security analysts is projected to grow 18 percent now through 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Cyber attacks have increased in frequency, and analysts will be needed to come up with innovative solutions to prevent hackers from stealing critical information or creating problems for computer networks.
In the computer systems design and related services area, employment of information security analysts is forecast to grow even more — 36 percent over the next seven years, says the U.S. Department of Labor.
The tech sector, in general, accounts for an estimated 8 percent — more than $1.3 trillion — of total activity in the U.S. economy, according to “Cyberstates 2017.” The annualized average salary for a tech–industry worker was an estimated $108,900 in 2016, more than double the average national wage of $53,040.
With the unemployment rate in Brevard County down to 4.1 percent, many employers in the region are scrambling to recruit talent, particularly people who have the right work–related experience in various areas of technology.
“The unemployment rate being as low as it is in the county, around the state and across the nation, presents a real challenge for us, because we help businesses and organizations identify job–seekers that meet their workforce needs,” said Blanchard.
“As more people gain employment, it becomes tougher as far as reaching out. We always have to be innovative and come up with new ideas to discover talent. And you have to have industry at the table telling you where their specific job needs are. Then we quickly turn around and develop curriculum and training programs for the job– seeker and deliver him or her to the employer. In a nutshell, that’s what we do.”
The government grants are designed to develop and grow regional partnerships between workforce agencies, education and training providers, and employers in the information technology, health care, and advanced manufacturing industries. Grantees use a variety of work– based learning to help participants obtain the necessary skills, competencies, and credentials, including on–the–job training.
“A majority of our training is dedicated OJT and incumbent worker training,” she said. “Incumbents are people are who are employed. On–the–job training is one of our favorite programs because it affords someone coming right out of a traditional classroom, the credentialing and training opportunity to enter the employment ranks. Then the employer takes over with some OJT to make sure the individual has the right skill sets needed for that specific organization.”
Murphy said the process for the American Promise Grant included reference letters from businesses. “The businesses really put some teeth behind the proposal because they stated they were going to hire people over the next three or four years.” In support of the grant proposal, CareerSource Brevard and CareerSource Central Florida received letters from 11 employer partners, including Modus Operandi Inc., Saalex Information Technology Inc., Artemis/The IT Company, IM Solutions Inc., and the Groundswell IT Incubator.
Tandy Baerst, the human resource manager at Modus Operandi, said, “Several of our engineers recently needed highly specialized training that cost thousands of dollars. Through the use of this highly anticipated grant, we can increase and improve the skills of our valued employees and save money on future training expenses.”