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Florida’s apprenticeship program helps companies navigate a worker shortage

 Joey Gerry is about to graduate from a three-year apprentice program registered with the state of Florida.
Gina Jordan
Joey Gerry is about to graduate from a three-year apprentice program registered with the state of Florida.

Tallahassee businesses are among those getting creative in recruiting and developing talent, thanks in part to Apprentice Florida.

Florida’s unemployment rate was 3.1 percent in February for the third consecutive month. That’s higher than a year ago, but it’s still relatively very low as many companies continue to face a shortage of workers.

So businesses, along with the state, are getting creative in recruiting and developing talent. Florida’s growing apprenticeship program is helping with that.

“Before I got into this, I had gone through a pretty rough patch in my life, and this kind of gave me a good outlet. I had some substance abuse issues and those type of things. I found something that I enjoy, that I'm good at, that keeps my attention,” says Joey Gerry, a project manager at Parker Services in Tallahassee.

Gerry is currently overseeing renovations at the Leon High School gym that involve a lot of pipe installation and welding. “My job as a project manager is to make sure they're following the prints, following the specifications, following all of the things that the contractor has laid out for us.”

Gerry is in an apprenticeship program through the Tallahassee Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Contractors Association. His program has him taking classes a couple of hours a week at Lively Technical College.

He’s been working with Parker Services for 6 years. Since he started the apprenticeship three years ago, paid for by the company, he’s earned multiple certifications and raises.

Now, he’s about to graduate.

“This program has really given me a direction,” Gerry says. “I’m married, I'm about to have my first kid. So I've come a long ways in a couple of years.”

 Joey Gerry shows off equipment at Parker Services in Tallahassee.
Gina Jordan
Joey Gerry shows off equipment at Parker Services in Tallahassee.

Apprenticeships can be a way for companies to fill holes in certain skill areas.

“We were looking for a way to attract talent and to retain talent, as well as provide our current employees an opportunity and a pathway with a little structure around it for growth,” says Chris Oglesby, vice president of G&S Fence in Tallahassee.

His company registered with the state’s apprenticeship program last June and created a curriculum. They now have 7 apprentices being paid for on-the-job training, including employees who jumped at the opportunity for advancement.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised that it's created a buzz within the organization from existing employees that have wanted to know more,” Oglesby says. “That in my mind gives them a structured path that they can follow with some very specific requirements and goals that they have to hit.”

Florida has 365 registered apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs through the Department of Education, and the number is growing.

“An employer can hire somebody for a job with the expectation that they will learn and grow into that job over time, and at the end of the day, that person will receive a credential,” says Adrienne Johnston, President and CEO of CareerSource Florida.

“We in the state of Florida have been challenged by the governor to make Florida number one in workforce education by 2030,” says Johnston, who was previously the state’s chief economist at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (now the Florida Department of Commerce).

CareerSource Florida is playing a big role in those efforts. The nonprofit organization has 24 local workforce development boards and 100 career centers statewide. CareerSource Florida is funded by a combination of state and federal dollars, and it's administered by the Florida Department of Commerce.

Johnston says the success of apprenticeship programs led to an initiative called Apprentice Florida, a campaign for reaching out to businesses and job seekers.

“We also through the CareerSource Florida network have started employing apprentice navigators. So each local area has a dedicated position to help both job seekers and employers develop apprenticeship programs that meet their needs,” Johnston says.

Participants in state-sanctioned apprenticeships are paid. Those who complete the program receive a certificate from the state with the goal of landing in a high wage career.

The latest apprenticeship report from the Florida Department of Education found that new graduates from the program have an average annual wage of nearly $54-thousand.

Copyright 2024 WFSU. To see more, visit WFSU.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. She left after a few years to spend more time with her son, working part-time as the capital reporter/producer for WLRN Public Media in Miami and as a drama teacher at Young Actors Theatre. She also blogged and reported for StateImpact Florida, an NPR education project, and produced podcasts and articles for AVISIAN Publishing. Gina has won awards for features, breaking news coverage, and newscasts from contests including the Associated Press, Green Eyeshade, and Murrow Awards. Gina is on the Florida Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors. Gina is thrilled to be back at WFSU! In her free time, she likes to read, travel, and watch her son play football. Follow Gina Jordan on Twitter: @hearyourthought