Florida has always been a state driven by innovation and imagination to create exponential economic opportunities. Now, as the fourth most populous state and a nationally recognized leader for workforce development, we are poised to help job seekers, workers and businesses succeed through the new federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
Fourteen years ago, led by then–Gov. Jeb Bush, we seized an opportunity created by the bipartisan, federal Workforce Investment Act to build a world-class workforce development system with bipartisan passage of our own Florida Workforce Innovation Act of 2000. These federal and state laws paved the way for business leadership of Florida's workforce development system — known today as the CareerSource Florida network — to ensure that publicly funded employment and training services meet marketplace needs and connect Floridians seeking to enter, remain and advance in the workforce with job opportunities and career pathways.
Today, we have a new opportunity to reinvigorate both Florida's and America's employment and training strategies, services and tools through WIOA, which was signed by President Barack Obama on July 22, following overwhelming bipartisan approval by the U.S. Senate and House.
At a time when national policy leaders struggle to compromise, we should not overlook their ability to unite in support of two vital pillars of our nation's future: jobs and American competitiveness. Florida's entire congressional delegation is to be commended for unanimous support of this critical legislation.
Our state is proud to have played an active role in ongoing federal policy discussions in recent years that led to the new Act — including the honor provided to me in February 2013 when I was invited to testify before a U.S. House subcommittee on legislation to reauthorize the more-than-a-decade-old Workforce Investment Act.
Since our start in 2000, Florida's workforce system has focused on innovative approaches to workforce development and continuous improvement to connect workers with the right skills to the right industries at the right time. For example, we have been on the leading edge in developing programs that ensure workers at small businesses upgrade their skills and competitiveness to respond to technological advances, support laid-off workers' transitioning to high-skill, high-wage industries, help Florida youth develop industry-recognized skills to prepare for college and careers and enhance our state's economic ecosystem for entrepreneurship.
Supported by Gov. Scott, we have increasingly improved our efforts since 2011 to measure what matters most to ensure stronger performance outcomes as we serve Florida businesses of all sizes and job seekers — entry-level to professional.
Last year, the CareerSource Florida network assisted more than 489,000 Floridians who found jobs, an increase of nearly 4 percent from a year ago. Responding to a CareerSource Florida network challenge by Gov. Scott to double the number of businesses we serve, we assisted more than 101,300 employers with a range of services including job listings, recruitment, referrals and training — a 117 percent increase from the prior year.
Earlier this year, we rebranded the entire system to make it easier for customers to identify and access services — becoming the first in the nation to unify state and local workforce development organizations through a single, aligned brand identity: The CareerSource Florida network.
WIOA emphasizes areas such as increased program accountability and business engagement as well as career pathways, employment services for people with disabilities and better aligned workforce and economic development strategies.
Through this new law, we have a clear path for future improvements, efficiencies and continued innovation to help workers gain 21st century skills and jobs and businesses remain globally competitive.
Chris Hart IV is president/CEO of CareerSource Florida, the statewide workforce policy and investment board of business and government leaders charged with overseeing the CareerSource Florida network, which includes the Department of Economic Opportunity, 24 regional workforce boards and nearly 100 career centers.