New 2-County Workforce Funders Collaborative will Address Employer and Worker Needs

By Meredith Hector, program director for Bradenton

Residents of Manatee and Sarasota counties feel the painful effects of the recession daily. It won’t surprise many to know that according to the Brookings Institution’s Metro Monitor, of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the country, Bradenton-Sarasota is the second-worst-performing in terms of employment, wages, economic output, home prices, and foreclosures (neighboring Tampa is the third worst).

While the current economic situation is bleak, many believe it is cyclical and will stabilize. But what about the region’s ongoing workforce challenges? This area faces a dual dilemma – businesses with long-term shortages of skilled workers and low-skilled individuals who lack the necessary training to secure jobs with family-sustaining wages.

A new collaborative of public and private funders has emerged over the past year to confront those challenges head on. The Manatee Sarasota Workforce Funders Collaborative, or MSWFC as it is currently known, is an entrepreneurial alliance composed of businesses, city and county governments, educational institutions, foundations and community organizations that will strengthen and accelerate regional workforce development. It is pooling nearly $2.5 million of local, state and national funds. Those monies will be a source of flexible capital, in the form of targeted grants, for innovative projects that:

  • Provide basic skills courses and occupational training to workers in health-care, manufacturing, technology and transportation careers;
  • Develop employer-based career pathways and
  • Help partner organizations implement career-coaching programs.

MSWFC aims to:

  • Support the movement of at least 300 people into promising, career-oriented jobs
  • Support at least 10 area employers in their efforts to train and advance employees into mid-skill-level jobs
  • Serve as a regional knowledge resource – conducting research and impact assessments and publishing findings that inform regional workforce strategies
  • Stimulate greater regional planning and cooperation

MSWFC is not simply a job placement program. This is an opportunity to move low-wage individuals into careers with a living wage. It is a long-term, industry-specific intervention strategy. The role of this collaborative is to serve as a workforce intermediary – organizing key stakeholders and local resources to help workers gain the skills they need and to give employers access to the skilled labor they need. There is evidence from an existing funders collaborative in Boston (the SkillWorks partnership) that program participants there earn an average $4 an hour more than their pre-enrollment wages.