New training program aims to beef up retail workforce
By Claudio Mendonça
Seven Miami-Dade County civic groups and educational institutions are joining forces to create a training program to feed qualified workers into the growing retail sector.
South Florida Workforce, the Beacon Council, the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, Florida International University, the Human Services Coalition, the public school system and Miami Dade College are creating the Workforce Development Coordinating Group to train young people who are interested in working in retail.
One idea is to set up a successful retailing program previously used in Elizabeth, NJ, said Mari Ledesma, strategic planning manager for South Florida Workforce.
"The retail skills center is important to develop a strong customer center for entry-level candidates," she said.
Organizers of the skills center point to the needs of the planned Midtown Miami, a mixed-use development north of downtown that is to add 600,000 square feet of retail space and 2,500 jobs in 2007 when its stores are completed.
Aside from Midtown Miami, Ms. Ledesma said Miami-Dade and Broward counties will need 38,000 more retail workers in the next six years.
In the recent past, said Carlos Manrique, specialist with Miami-Dade County Divisional Workforce Development Education, business organizations and the county school system did not exchange information.
"There was no clear communication between the school system and the business community," Mr. Manrique said.
He said 23 adult vocational educational facilities scattered throughout the county offer customized training.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa organized a meeting to address the business needs and workforce training issues.
"The business community and educational facilities weren't working together," Commissioner Sosa said. "It was time to bring businesses, Miami-Dade County and educational institutions together. Businesses need workforce and vice-versa."
Ms. Sosa said she is striving for a "very professional program" to train people in areas where unemployment is high.
"We want to grab these workers by the hand and provide them with skills," she said.
Heading the county's efforts is Assistant County Manager Tony Crapp, who said the workforce development group's goal is to coordinate the interests of key stakeholders and that the program is not just for retail.
"Retail is an opportunity available," he said. "With Midtown Miami under development, the group is seeking to fill all occupational needs. This effort is an attempt to make sure everyone is convened."
In addition to retail, the county's divisional workforce recently did customized training for Florida Power & Light. He said such efforts help cut unemployment. The county's jobless rate fell from 6% in March 2004 to 4.8% in this March, according to the US Department of Labor.
In the coming meetings, the workforce coordinating group will discuss setting up a customer skills center and how to finance it.
"We are still in preliminary discussions on how program will be funded," said South Florida Workforce's Ms. Ledesma. "But one of the possibilities is to get mixed funding from the retail industry and from our different programs."
The workforce coalition's plans also will be partially driven by an ongoing Beacon Council survey.
After three meetings, Mr. Crapp said this week the coalition is "looking at recommendations to make sure we all have clear objectives."
"We need to know what the Beacon Council needs," said Mr. Manrique. "The Beacon Council is the economic engine of Miami to lure business to the area."