Published: Saturday, may 12, 2012 at 5:00 a.m. last Modified: Friday, may 11, 2012 at 10:54 a.m.
Following the loss of the shuttle program, the stagnant construction industry and lagging tourism, many Floridians are unsure if our economy can return to its pre-recession levels.
Many in the state have looked to manufacturing, a previously overlooked industry in a state known more for its natural beauty, agriculture and theme parks. Manufacturing already plays a key role in Florida's economy, but we need to focus more on growing this specific industry in our state.
Forty percent of all U.S. exports to South America pass through Florida, with the potential to increase once the Miami dredging project is completed, yet we fall short in terms of capital investments needed to make goods here. Florida has the lowest per-capita capital expenditures on manufacturing among the 12 Southern states, lagging behind our neighbors in our supply of a trained manufacturing workforce and incentives to attract new advanced manufacturers.
Florida cannot rely on tourism, construction or the space program alone to revive our economy; we need to invest in education programs promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills. A skilled workforce, as well as assistance with permitting, incentives and accommodation of special needs, would make Florida one of the best places in the country to relocate to or start a new manufacturing company.
Many manufacturers in Florida are seeking skilled workers who are ready to start work with the knowledge and industry credentials necessary to bring results right away. the top five hardest to fill manufacturing jobs in Florida are: CNC machinists, engineers, welders, mechanics, and safety/quality professionals. this year, the Manufacturers Association of Florida Center for Advanced Manufacturing Excellence is teaming up with the Florida Sterling Council to host a STEM forum to bring together leaders from academia with professionals from industry to begin moving Florida's workforce forward.
Despite high unemployment, many manufacturing companies are struggling to fill empty positions with qualified STEM applicants. According to a study recently released by Georgetown University's Center on Education and Workforce, "The disproportionate influence of STEM raises a persistent concern that we are not producing enough STEM workers to compete successfully in the global economy." the study found that while manufacturing jobs spur economic growth and productivity, businesses are struggling to find skilled workers to fill positions in advanced manufacturing, utilities and transportation, mining, and other technology-driven industries.
The same Georgetown University study found that in just four years 92 percent of traditional STEM jobs will require training beyond high school, such as industry certifications, associate's degrees, as well as bachelor and graduate degrees. this means that Florida's STEM industries will be nearly entirely reliant on post-secondary academic institutions to supply their workforce for the future.
The analytical skills taught in these STEM courses are valuable for students to succeed both in and out of manufacturing. many students transfer their talents to other industries including management, service and education. as part of his 2012 Job Creation and Economic Growth Agenda, Governor Rick Scott has made it a priority for Florida schools to produce graduates that can support a growing high-tech workforce. the office of the governor estimates that Florida will need approximately 120,000 new workers in STEM fields through 2018. to meet this goal our academic institutions, secondary and post-secondary, must change the way they teach and emphasize STEM subjects.
Manufacturing is the 6th largest "non-farm, non-government" industry in Florida. the average annual wages paid to manufacturing employees are higher than the state average in the private sector. moreover, manufacturing employees enjoy much better stability in their employment than workers in other private industries. despite the economic recession, employees in the manufacturing industry have enjoyed wage increases each year since 2001. Manufacturing jobs provide lifeblood to surrounding communities, supporting many peripheral industries such as shipping, service and real estate.
Improved STEM education combined with improved assistance and incentives are vital to establishing Florida's economy as one of the best in the nation. Participation in STEM forums such as the one in Orlando on may 31 will motivate more STEM industries to move to Florida and bring lasting prosperity to our wonderful state. find out more about how you can become involved in these efforts by visiting flstem.com and attending the 2012 Florida STEM Manufacturing & Education Forum on may 31 in Orlando.
Nancy Stephens is executive director of the Manufacturers Association of Florida
<a href="http://www.gainesville.com/article/20120511/OPINION/120519928/-1/news?Title=Nancy-Stephens-Florida-needs-more-STEM-graduatestag:news.google.com,2005:cluster=http://www.gainesville.com/article/20120511/OPINION/120519928/-1/news?Title=Nancy-Stephens-Florida-needs-more-STEM-graduatesSat, 12 May 2012 09:15:37 GMT">Nancy Stephens: Florida needs more STEM graduates