How Irma Is Hitting Florida’s Tight Labor Market

Even before Hurricane Irma chewed its way up the length of Florida, knocking out power for millions and leaving billions of dollars of destruction in its wake, the state was facing critical shortages in skilled labor, most importantly construction and related skilled trades. Developers have been starved for labor for months amid a huge building boom and in the wake of Irma the need for carpenters, roofers, electricians and IT professionals will grow even more acute.

Helping business navigate this is the mission of CareerSource Florida, the statewide workforce policy and investment board. They partner with the Department of Economic Opportunity, 24 local workforce development boards and 100 career centers throughout Florida to help business get the talent they need to grow. (Note: Chief Executive will be hosting our annual CEO Talent Summit in Orlando this coming Oct. 26th & 27th.)

I talked with Michelle Dennard, President & CEO of CareerSource Florida, about Florida labor post-Irma and what her organization is doing to help business rebound.

Q: What’s the situation like for business in Florida right now? What are you hearing from around the state?
A: What we’re hearing is that there’s lots of businesses in different places. There are those who have experienced little or minor damage and there are those that have experienced a complete discontinuing of their business. There’s damage beyond operations or their employees may not be able to get to work. It’s a range. But what we have across the board is a commitment from businesses to even help one another, and getting to a place where they can resume their operations.

When a natural disaster like Hurricane Irma hits Florida, our priority is determining the safety and well-being of Floridians, helping those to be able to address recovery from a safe standpoint. When it comes to businesses, our goal there is to get them up and running as quickly as possible. And if we can help Floridians work in the process, that’s a win-win for CareerSource Florida and the network.

Q: So what kind of labor issues are Florida businesses facing right now? What are the challenges you’re hearing about?
A: They need help in cleanup, in restoration, some have experienced flooding damage, some have experienced damage to their roofs, their facilities are needing IT professionals to get their servers back up and running or mechanical or electrical needs. And a lot of those occupations  tie into the construction industry type of professionals. Skilled labor.

So part of what CareerSource Florida does every day is to help businesses find the right kind of talent that meets their needs on a particular day. And the needs of businesses today likely look a little bit different than they did even two weeks ago. So what we can do for them is to analyze our available database of job seekers that we have in Employflorida.com and look at their occupations and align them to the kind of skills businesses need post hurricane.

We can help them to find construction workers, heating and air conditioning professionals, roofing professionals, the kinds of cleanup and rebuilding that’s required after a hurricane like Hurricane Irma. And we can connect the businesses with those job seekers who have those skills that are needed to get them back up and running.

Q: So what was the labor situation in Florida like before the hurricane, and how does this change things immediately going forward?
A: You know, there has been an uptick in the need for skilled labor professions, it obviously becomes more urgent and more apparent that that gap is glaring when you experience a hurricane. So while the call for skilled trades professionals is not new to Florida, it’s certainly highlighted and made even more apparent than it has been in the recent past.

Q: What does a business do when they reach out to you for help? What actually happens?
A: A business can contact one of our 24 local workforce development boards. We’re located throughout the state and we have great relationships with businesses in the local areas where our boards are. A business can contact one of the local boards and be connected to a professional who can listen to their talent needs, find out what kind of either skilled trades or professional services they may need and that local board can connect them to the qualified skilled talent that’s ready to go to work for them in their area.

Our best case scenario is that we can alleviate that stress on a business during a difficult time by providing customized responses to that particular businesses need: recruitment, hiring and even training, so if they have some employees … that need a different skill, we can help identify the right kind of training that may help their business [get] back to normal operations.

Q: What’s the sense that you have about when business will be able to get a bit back to normal?
A: Governor Scott is encouraging businesses to be back up and running as quickly as possible. And I think that his urgency in restoring power to both families and businesses speaks to his call for Florida businesses to be putting money back into the economy as quickly as possible. We understand that may not be the case for all businesses throughout the state, but that’s where the resources we provide can help them make that as speedy as possible.

From the editor: In addition to CareerSource Florida, here are two key online resources for Florida businesses in need of assistance: 

  • The Florida Virtual Business Emergency Operations Center damage assessment survey has been activated for businesses to report damages resulting from Hurricane Irma. Businesses are encouraged to visit http://flvbeoc.org/index.php. Click on Hurricane Irma.
  • Governor Scott activated the Florida Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program. These loans support businesses impacted by Hurricane Irma with short-term, interest-free loans to address physical or economic damage during the storm. Visit www.floridadisasterloan.orgFor more information, contact the Florida Small Business Development Center Network at 850-898-3489 or email Disaster@FloridaSBDC.org.)
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Dan Bigman
Dan Bigman is Editor and Chief Content Officer of Chief Executive Group, publishers of Chief Executive, Corporate Board Member, ChiefExecutive.net and Boardmember.com. Previously he was Managing Editor at Forbes and the founding business editor of NYTimes.com.

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