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Local employers having trouble finding skilled workers


Helene Caseltine’s conversations with local employers these days usually begin with a request – from them.

“The first thing they say is, ‘Find me some workers,’” said Caseltine, who is economic development director for the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce.

To be more specific: The owners and managers of local businesses are seeking workers already trained to do the jobs they have available.

“A lot of employers throughout the Treasure Coast, not just here in our county, are struggling to find workers with either the experience or skills needed to fill their open positions,” Caseltine said last week. “With the unemployment rate down to 4.3 percent, it’s getting tougher to find those people.

“And we’re not talking about just manufacturing or healthcare or the trades,” she added. “It’s a problem that crosses all industry boundaries.”

For that reason, Caseltine’s office and other economic development organizations in neighboring counties again are partnering with area business leaders, educational institutions and CareerSource Research Coast – the employer-driven regional workforce resource agency – to reassess the challenges of finding qualified candidates.

To do so, these groups are urging employers along the Treasure Coast to participate in the 2019 Skills Gap Study 2.0, a follow-up to the 2017 study that recommended:

• Industry-sponsored scholarships to encourage students to enter training programs for high-demand fields.

• Externships that encourage educators to experience different work environments to increase their knowledge of career options.

• Tax incentives for companies to provide educational funding for staffing and/or materials needed to teach industry-specific skills.

• Internships and apprenticeships for high school and college students.

The study also recommended weeklong “boot camps” to provide rapid training to prepare students with the basic skills they’ll need to enter the work force – a program Caseltine’s office already has implemented.

“Not everyone is meant to go to college,” said Jackie Carlon, spokeswoman for Vero Beach-based Piper Aircraft, the county’s largest private employer. “That’s why we started our apprenticeship program.”

Piper announced in October it was partnering with Indian River State College to create an apprenticeship program designed to address the shortage of workers trained in the trades needed in the aviation-manufacturing industry.

The two-year program, which welcomed its first 10 students earlier this month, provides 4,000 hours of on-the-job training, plus classroom instruction, both of which are designed to prepare the apprentices for work as a “journeyman” in aircraft assembly.

Not only does Piper cover the students’ college tuition, Carlon said, but the company also pays the apprentices an hourly wage and offers the same benefits package offered to employees.

“Finding trained people for our workforce has become more challenging,” Carlon said, adding that Piper currently has 1,039 employees and “will be hiring for the foreseeable future.”

Piper is among the area employers participating in the Skills Gap Study, which can be found at – click on “Site Selection” for a drop-down to “Workforce Training” – until Sept. 6.

The results of the online survey, which Caseltine said takes 10 minutes to complete, and follow-up interviews will be made public in October.

“The study will help us determine the skill gaps we need to fill to provide local employers with the workers they need,” Caseltine said. “We’re hoping for as much input as we can get.”