Op-ed: Skills Gap Highlights Challenges, Opportunities for Miami

Workforce initiatives focus on creating and filling middle-skills jobs.

When the global economy sputtered and seized in the recession of 2008-2010, Florida’s Miami-Dade County region was hit hard. Today, the economy has vastly improved with the unemployment rate close to pre-recession levels. It’s a good time to evaluate and address our needs for more skilled workers in high-growth industries. A rebounding economy can offer communitywide prosperity with the right focus on skills development.

According to the newly released JPMorgan Chase report, Trading on Innovation to Expand Opportunity, 9,500 new middle-skills jobs – those that need more than a high school diploma, but not necessarily a four-year degree – are projected to be created every year through 2019. Miami-Dade is ready to fill these jobs with skilled workers.

Many of these positions will be created in two of the highest-growth industries in the community: trade and logistics, and information technology. More importantly, these jobs are economic and lifestyle superchargers. They pay well, giving individuals and families more disposable income and a better quality of life and thus contributing to the economic growth of Miami-Dade County.

That’s why JPMorgan Chase & Co. launched its New Skills at Work initiative to rebuild and retool the workforce in nine cities around the nation, including Miami. JPMorgan Chase committed $5 million to help close the workforce skills gap in Miami-Dade County. At a recent event held by The Beacon Council, the county’s economic development partner, to promote its One Community One Goal job-growth expansion initiative, JPMorgan Chase released a report that examines where these jobs are and offers a framework for how to fill them.

Miami-Dade County educators, community groups and governments have the opportunity to work with the business community to know where the opportunities are and to develop programs that will close this skills gap and create meaningful careers paths that help more people achieve prosperity.

Some important steps are already being taken. Through One Community One Goal, “Orientation to Career” camps have been created to formally introduce high school students to high-growth industries with visits to venues such as the Port of Miami and Miami International Airport. Career awareness websites are also being established to provide detailed information about available jobs and skills required. The Talent Development Network provides an online tool that matches qualified students with paid internships at local businesses.

Today, Miami is one of the first communities with an Academic Leaders Council; all six local college and university presidents and the superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools meet regularly with industry committees to align curriculum with job skills needed. In the trade and logistics industry, for example, new courses were created for supply chain management, a skill in high demand. This creates a new narrative for Miami-Dade County where historic data underscored a serious problem in job readiness; the region’s education and training system has responded and is preparing enough people to obtain these jobs.

The good news is that most of those 9,500 new jobs created each year, according to the JPMorgan Chase report, will start with pay that is above the region’s living wage ($20.41 an hour for families with two adults and one child) and substantially above the state’s minimum wage of $7.93. But more than a boost in pay, middle-skills jobs provide people with a career path that has opportunities for continued professional development, with continued earnings and benefits growth.

Consider the example of a person who gets the training needed to fill an entry level middle-skills position in IT (systems analyst, Web developer or computer support). That person would see starting compensation of more than $22 an hour – already above the region’s living wage and almost triple the minimum wage. But that is just the entry level to a career path that can reach more than $37 an hour – nearly $80,000 a year in salary plus benefits.

In trade and logistics, middle-wage jobs can pay even more. The average median wage for a person with the skills to fill an entry level in supply chain, warehouse and distribution is nearly $24 an hour, opening the door to more senior positions that pay up to almost $55 an hour – or $115,000 in gross pay.

Miami-Dade has the right academic system to get people the necessary skills for those opportunities. This effort requires a committed, collaborative effort between government, business, educators and nonprofit organizations. The research proves both the need and opportunity exist. Now we must continue to grow our collective efforts. With this, Miami-Dade will have not just greater economic growth but stronger, healthier communities as well.

Chauncy Lennon is head of workforce initiatives for JPMorgan Chase.
Larry K. Williams is president and CEO of The Beacon Council, Miami-Dade’s economic development organization.