Pensacola is one of five communities joining a new initiative aimed at advancing inclusive workforce development through reaching under-served populations.
An initiative of the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning — CAEL — the Inclusive Development Network will work to identify and implement strategies that reduce equity gaps in local workforce development.
“At this time, we’re kind of waiting for the leadership from CAEL to come in and sort of map out what that strategy’s going to look like,” said Scott Luth, CEO of the Panhandle’s economic development arm, Florida West. “We’ll probably know more over the next 3-4 months.”
Besides Pensacola, the Inclusive Development Network – IDN -- also tapped Cleveland OH; Corpus Christi, TX; Coweta, OK; and Spokane, WA from more than 35 applications as IDN’s first group of communities. Luth says the vetting was rather thorough.
“Five or six-page application; they obviously were very interested in our background as the leading economic development agency for Pensacola and Escambia County; our history and programs,” Luth said. “We gave information about CareerSource EscaRosa and the programs they have; and our fairly new initiative in the community, Achieve Escambia – one of our partners as well.”
Also included in the application were Florida West’s work with the Escambia County School District’s career academies, and projects with Pensacola State College and University of West Florida. Besides existing partnerships, IDN was also looking for areas of need.
“When you look at the demographics and the data on Escambia County; and you look at our poverty levels and you look at those individuals that are ‘working poor,’” said Luth. “I think we have a good structure in place, and we have a need. I think that kind of played into why we were selected.”
FloridaWest will partner with those agencies, along with representatives from business and industry, education, government, and the community. Through CAEL, the teams will use strategies to create education, and career opportunities for residents of all demographics.
“There’s going to be a lot of cross-sharing of information between the five communities; and more importantly, leveraging the technical expertise of these organizations that we’re partnering with,’ Luth says. “And finding good solutions to some of the same problems that we have. So it’s not just the five [cities] but hopefully across the United States, pulling those into a concerted effort for our community.”
Although very different in size, population and economic needs, Luth says IDN is providing the cities a “one size fits all” blueprint when it comes to the overall goal of improving the local workforce.
“Each city may have different nuances and maybe develop different best practices, or take advantages of different best practices across the United States,” said Luth. “But I think that’s part of why these groups picked different communities with different backgrounds, to begin to look at what works best for maybe small, medium-sized communities with slightly different needs.”
Over the past eight years, Florida West has focused on the big picture of bringing in jobs and lowering the area’s unemployment rate, which Luth says went from double digits to the current rates of around three and a half percent.
“What we’ve not done to date, is to really take a deeper dive into all of our community, and begin to look at some of our pockets of poverty,” Luth says. “And this program – as well as our commitment over the coming years – will allow us to have kind of a really good focus on making sure that all individuals in our community have the opportunity for success.”
The participating communities – again, Pensacola; Cleveland, Corpus Christi, Coweta and Spokane -- will receive a 60 thousand dollar stipend offset the costs of participation. It may be applied toward expenses related to travel, hosting a meeting, staff, and implementation of a prioritized strategy.