The FutureMakers Coalition, a group of business, nonprofit and civic leaders in Southwest Florida, is inching its way toward its three goals of transforming the region’s workforce, closing a higher education gap and reversing brain drain where the young people who are educated here leave to work somewhere else.
And while its most recent comprehensive study, the 2023 Southwest Florida Educational and Workforce Outcomes Report, highlights some of that progress, it’s also a glimpse into some glaring weaknesses — notably in early and elementary school education.
Workforce Now, a research initiative that studies the regional workforce and is made up of researchers from Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida SouthWestern State College and FutureMakers Coalition, conducted the study and published the 121-page report. It looks at demographics, education, occupations, employment gaps and projected job growth, using local, state and federal data.
One of the FutureMakers Coalition’s stated goals is to increase the proportion of working-age adults with college degrees, workforce certificates, industry certifications and other high-quality credentials to 55% by 2025. That’s a pathway, the organization says, that begins with early childhood learning and ends with post-high school credential attainment and career connections.
That’s where some of the progress can be found: The skilled workforce in the five-county region was 39% of the working age population in 2013, or 218,586 people. In 2021 that number had climbed to 43.7% of the working age population, the report found.
On the flip side, the education grades in the region, in addition to the state, can best be described as dismal. Kindergarten readiness — the percent of pre-K students considered ready for kindergarten — was 48.1% in fall 2022. That less-than-half outcome is even 1.1 percentage points below the state level.
The third grade reading proficiency rate in Southwest Florida, meanwhile, was 47% in the 2022-23 academic year, down 3 percentage points from Florida.