Job placement firms scramble to fill slots


Published: Thursday, February 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 31, 2007 at 11:56 p.m.

While other states struggle to place unemployed people in jobs, Florida is in a unique position of having 800,000 openings, said Curtis Austin, president of Workforce Florida Inc.

The challenge then is for workforce development workers to prepare people for better-quality jobs and train employers to offer a workplace that retains employees, he said.

But it also means the state gets less federal funding since the formula is based on need.

Austin spoke Wednesday at the closing session of the Florida Workforce Summit 2007 at the Hilton hotel in Gainesville, the annual meeting of the state's workforce workers, including the FloridaWorks region of Alachua and Bradford counties.

Two years ago, Florida's work force systems placed more people into jobs than any other state, including California, which has twice as many jobs, Austin said.

However, since its creation in 2000, Florida's Workforce funding has been cut by $125 million, Austin said, from a formula based on layoffs, unemployment and poverty rates.

"We have listened to lectures from Washington about how the system has to transform, but what Washington doesn't understand is we can't be successful in the business community and cannot do our job being a talent agency if we are continually funded for disaster," he said.

The funding has forced workforce boards to be more resourceful, building partnerships with other agencies such as the NAACP, Urban Leagues, United Way and state juvenile justice and family protection agencies, Austin said.

The workforce shortage means it is important that employees are placed in jobs that will strengthen and diversify the economy, he said.

Austin said it is also important to get personally involved with rescuing underprivileged kids.

"I do understand what happens if we don't start making some of this stuff a little bit personal, if we don't cry for the ones that we lose and cry for the ones that we help save," he said.

Bob Knight of Arbor Education & Training Workforce Institute in Washington, D.C., said workforce funding will likely remain flat in 2007, but was down 10 percent to 15 percent in Florida in 2006.

He said the new Congressional leadership has many labor-friendly legislators.

Florida's own Rep. Ric Keller, R-Orlando, is on the House Subcommittee For Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness.

Anthony Clark can be reached at anthony.clark@gvillesun.com or (352) 374-5094.

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