02/20/2013 01:17 pm ET Updated Apr 22, 2013

CareerEdge Uses Sector-Based Approach to Close Florida's Skills Gap

As a single mother and soon-to-be, first-time grandmother, Maria desperately needed to find work. Unfortunately, she'd been out of the workforce so long, her skills were no longer applicable to the marketplace.

Fortunately, Maria heard about CareerEdge, a non-profit, public-private partnership serving the Manatee-Sarasota region of Florida. Through the training we provide, individuals can get the help they need for a new start in life. In two years, we've been able to impact the lives of more than 1,775 individuals with needed training. In addition, we've helped secure employment for more than 290 members of our community.

CareerEdge got its start as the 24th "regional collaborative" site of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions in 2010. Through the funding and support of the National Fund, we've been able to work with local decision-makers - including employers, educational partners and community-based organizations - to identify and develop training pathways in industry sectors most promising to meet local needs.

For the Manatee-Sarasota area, two of these growth sectors where we concentrate our efforts include healthcare, which we entered into in our first year and manufacturing, which we introduced this year. This training not only helps close the local skills gap, but most importantly, provides a pathway to well-paying jobs for low-skilled workers who are trying hard to get ahead in life and provide for their families.

In Maria's case, that meant going through our job-readiness program in manufacturing and then onto training toward a certificate offered by the Manufacturing Skills Society Council. But the help didn't stop there: we also found Maria employment with a local manufacturer.

As a result, by the time her granddaughter was born, Maria had regained the skills needed to be competitive in the workforce and obtained employment with benefits. This gave her the confidence she had lacked to continue on with her education and pursue her GED, which CareerEdge was able to help cover by way of funding through the National Fund.

Maria is just one example of the many lives impacted through this sector-based approach. Most job seekers who become participants in our programs are unemployed, on welfare or on other means of social support. They are typically single parents unable to obtain employment due to a lack of skills, and the need for child care and funds necessary to obtain any kind of job readiness or credentialed training.

As another real-life example, Cassie found CareerEdge through HOPE Family Services Domestic Violence shelter. Through their encouragement, she successfully completed a CareerEdge training program and is now employed at a local distribution center, Bealls, Inc. Since coming to CareerEdge for help, Cassie now lives in her own home and her children are being well taken care of. She is successfully employed and continuing her education both on the job and outside of it.

Maria and Cassie's stories are just two of many. Our goal is to get as many such individuals as possible back into the workforce, earning sustainable wages and set on successful career paths. The work accomplished by CareerEdge enables us to make lives transform and strengthens our community bonds and economic development. The funding received from the National Fund enables the success of CareerEdge to be possible. To support more programs like ours, consider donating to the National Fund for Workforce Solutions through the JobRaising Challenge, being sponsored by The Huffington Post and the Skoll Foundation. To learn more, visit

Jennifer Carp is Senior Program Director at CareerEdge.