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Business Observer Tuesday, Jul. 7, 2020 1 month ago

Cutting-edge workforce group hits milestone

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CareerEdge built a big success by starting with small victories.

Through the recession of 2008-09, the most common method of addressing unemployment and underemployment issues in a community in Florida was through a hodgepodge network of workforce boards.

Those entities looked at hiring and retention issues from the perspective of the employee, or potential employee. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but Mireya Eavey thought there was a gap in tackling the issue, punctuated by the crippling downturn. Eavey had run her own mortgage company in the mid-2000s and had later been tasked with assisting area companies in employee training through a position with Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County. “When the recession happened, we knew we needed some new ideas and ways to take on workforce development,” Eavey says.

The result of that shift in thinking is CareerEdge Funders Collaborative. CareerEdge, funded partially by Sarasota-Bradenton area businesses, celebrates its 10-year anniversary this summer, with a long list of data points to back up its first decade. The list includes nearly 6,000 workers trained, more than 8,000 certificates earned, more than 1,500 new jobs, $30 million in cumulative annual earnings gains and $12.2 million invested in regional workforce development.

The key to CareerEdge’s success, Eavey says, was to go to the employers and find out their needs and pain points. The concept, novel back then in Florida and based on some programs in Boston and the Northeast, uses donations from companies and other organizations to build a skilled labor pool. Eavey and her team then connect the employers to the labor pool with on a specific, industry-based effort. CareerEdge, even with its success, remains one of the few in Florida to address workforce issues in an employer-centric way. It’s also the only workforce collaborative in the Southeast to receive funding and support from the National Fund for Workforce Solutions.

The CareerEdge strategy is simple and can translate to almost any business concept: build a bunch of small victories, then take on bigger tasks. The linchpin is another business axiom, to listen to your customers. “When we started we knew we couldn’t do it all,” Eavey says. “We said, ‘Let’s focus on industries with the most job openings.'  Then we went out to all those employers and asked them, what can we do? What should we asking?”

The list of businesses and organizations that helped fund CareerEdge at the start includes the city of Bradenton Central Community Redevelopment Agency, Bank of America, the National Fund for Workforce Solutions and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation was on the biggest backers, with a $1 million donation.

CareerEdge has been a part of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Foundation for two years. Eavey is now executive vice president at the chamber, where she oversees CareerEdge and other workforce education initiatives. Before that, CareerEdge was part of the United Way Suncoast, and before that the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, where CEO Mark Pritchett championed the concept from its infancy.

While the first 10 years have been a success, the start of CareerEdge’s second decade is, obviously, marred by a challenge even bigger than the recession, in addressing pandemic-led workforce issues. Eavey’s approach is more of the same, to listen to employer’s needs, plug holes in the workforce and connect more people with the right jobs. “We want to keep expanding the trades,” she says. “And I want to continue the collaboration all of us have toward a common goal.”  

(This story was updated to reflect additional names of entities that backed CareerEdge.) 

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