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LEGISLATIVE Negligence By: Alan Zirkelbach

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  • | 6:00 p.m. June 17, 2005
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Our state is one year closer to a crisis with the skilled technical labor shortage, which has been increasingly affectcting Florida business and is beginning to affect the public.

The Legislature failed to do anything in its last session that would prevent, or even slow, this impending crisis.

The snapshot of the crisis is this: About 80% of Florida's fastest-growing occupations will require postsecondary career and technical education - NOT a four-year college degree.

Some of these jobs include paramedics, nurses, police officers, firefighters and construction-related trades. These are the people who help us in emergencies, take care of us when we are sick, protect us and build our communities.

Adding to this skyrocketing demand is that in most of these trades and professions, there already exists a tight labor market where demand far outpaces supply.

But while demand for these jobs is skyrocketing, the Legislature failed again to fund properly the state's most efficient engine to produce this skilled technical labor - technical education centers. In fact, funding for technical centers has actually decreased by 8% from 1997 to 2003.

Although this continued under-funding and lack of attention given to technical education has been going unrecognized by Floridians at large and the Legislature, it is no secret to Florida's business community. Florida businesses have been finding it more difficult each year to find skilled technical labor. In many instances, business growth is severely limited because there is little or no skilled technical labor to hire. In a small but growing number of instances, businesses are leaving Florida for other states, such as North Carolina, that understand the importance of technical education to meet the skyrocketing demand.

Florida citizens are beginning to feel the repercussions of the Legislature's negligence. Prices for services provided by companies employing skilled technical labor are soaring, and there often is a long line of waiting customers in need of these types of services.

In this recent legislative session, although Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala was a champion in the House, the Senate played the role of obstructionist. The result was a small increase in funding - $10 million - that was substantially less than Gov. Jeb Bush's recommendation and not even close to the $100 million-plus needed to turn this around.

And, none of the workforce education legislation, such as a separate state chancellor for technical education, was even addressed.

If the Legislature does not address the shortage of technical education, the state will face a crisis in five years or less. I will be working with business leaders throughout the west coast of Florida to bring this to the legislators' attention next year, and I welcome any input or involvement that business leaders may have.

Alan Zirkelbach is president of Bradeonton-based Zirkelbach Construction.


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