Job openings spur workforce concerns

Kimberly Moore

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Signs around town that bellow the urgency for filling vacant job positions could be the result of people looking for something more.

Individuals want more control of the hours they work, benefits and independence. Those, said Kimberly Moore, Vice President for Workforce Innovation – Workforce Development  at Tallahassee Community College, are some of the reasons jobs that became vacant during the pandemic aren’t being filled in a hurry.

The millennial demographic makes up the biggest age bracket that’s seeking more control of what they do for a career, Moore said.

“They have no desire to look at clocking in an 8 to 5 for 30 years,” she said. “That’s not what they want to do. They want a good quality of life and they’ve figured out a way that they can do it by managing their opportunities. They manage their opportunities by creating.”

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity released a report last week that shows the state had a 5.1 percent unemployment rate in July. In Leon County, the unemployment rate was 5.0 percent.

Leon was almost in the middle of the state’s 67 counties, while Hendry County was highest at 7.6 percent. The lowest unemployment rate was in  Monroe County at 3.1 percent.

Unemployment numbers are being monitored more than usual because they could give a good indication how people are going back to work after losing their jobs when the pandemic caused a shutdown. Hardest hit were those who worked in hospitality, along with those who had gig jobs.

A recent national research shows more than 10 million job openings nation-wide. That is attributed to a variety of reasons, including childcare and people just wanting a career change.

Many who aren’t looking to return to their jobs, instead are turning to their side hustles to become their livelihood. Handiwork, operating food trucks and landscaping are some of the most popular choices over going back to working for hourly wages.

However, there might be some people who chose to go back to work on a flexible schedule. Katrina Tuggerson, president of the Capital City Chamber of Commerce, suggests a flex schedule would give them time to get more out of their side hustle.

 “This is my opinion,” she said. “If they go back to the workplace it definitely won’t be the same and they will always have a part-time business going on.”

The situation has become so dire that TCC has invested  $500,000 into its Workforce Connections Initiative to Bridge the gap between local workers shortage and employers, Moore said.

Plans by Amazon to bring 1,000 jobs to Tallahassee is good news but it will fill only a small portion of jobs needed over the next nine years. Research by the Florida Chamber Foundation shows that 18,000 new jobs have to be created in the city by 2030, said Sue Dick, president of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce. 

What’s happening now with the number of job vacancies has created what Dick calls a “workforce crisis.”

“That’s what we really want to be focused on now because the only way we are going to solve community problems such as crime (and) poverty is by creating jobs,” she said. “We are talking all kinds of jobs.”

In an effort to keep pace with the need for jobs, the Chamber is emphasizing its Leon Works program, which enables high school students to learn about jobs in various fields. Leon Works is a public-private partnership between the community, employers, academic institutions and students.

“It’s a way of getting in front of those kids and saying, ‘your only way out is not just college. You could start a job in high school,’ ” Dick said.

A recent jobs report on the region where TCC provides workforce services didn’t paint a rosy picture. The area that includes Gadsden, Leon and Wakulla counties shows 13,393 openings, with 10,393 job seekers as of early August.

Creating job opportunities early could be a way of bolstering a future workforce, said Antonio Jefferson, president of the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce.

“That’s one way of making sure that the skills are matching the opportunity of the future,” Jefferson said.