Mireya Eavey, the Gulf Coast’s top promoter of workforce development, this summer joins the ranks of The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, and her heralded CareerEdge Funders initiative will move with her on June 18. An initiative rather than an agency, CareerEdge was able to move from its launch with the Knight Foundation to building on United Way’s financial stability programs, but Eavey says the move under a Chamber umbrella makes the most sense yet thanks to a direct connection with employers. “It make perfect sense that the next progression of CareerEdge was to go to an organization that is employer-focused,” says Eavey, the founding executive for CareerEdge a decade ago. As she prepped for a move away from her role as Sarasota area president for United Way Suncoast, Eavey spoke with SRQ about what this move could mean for employees in the region.


Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.


What benefits do you already feel from moving CareerEdge under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce? Mireya:  We’ve already been working with them on the Talent4Tomorrow initiative. There’s a lot of excitement in the community about the partnership of the Chamber and CareerEdge. We are going to continue working with our employer-demand model at the Chamber. Our funding strategy to fund employers to upscale employees, that work is going to continue. We are looking at broader workforce development issues and how we can address them.


Can you explain the difference that comes from an “employer-demand” model?  An employer-demand model looks at labor market research as well as working with employers on the jobs that are in high demand. What are the hard-to-fill-positions that we may not have the skilled workers for in our area? We need to work with our educators to put in the required training to get the current workers trained. It’s looking at the job market and skillsets and skill gaps. What system needs to be in place to train workers so they have the right skillsets? A lot of times when you look at workforce development, there’s focus on the organizations and educators providing the supply side to the employers. We look at it from the employers’ standpoint of addressing skill gaps.


And that addresses current employer needs, not just those companies you might attract to the area?  Exactly. But also you are addressing an asset map, of what’s the available talent and skill levels we have in the region. If economic development wants to attract a company, we are able to give them information, that we have that skillset here. Let’s say we have trained machinists in the area. Or we could say we have a shortage at this time, and ask, do we need to work with educators and promote and push to have those programs in place, and have an awareness to that industry to get people interested to go into those trainings?


What are the major changes and evolutions that need to be addressed in workforce development?  A lot of it is around technology. In manufacturing you have new equipment and need a different skillset to be able to service, maintain or work with equipment. I also see there are many good-paying jobs that we are not promoting to our students. One of the first industries we are going to look at with the Chamber is going to be the insurance industry. There’s a broad range of jobs working at companies like FCCI and TheZenith, our big insurance companies. It’s really working with our students to promote that there are great career pathways into those jobs, but a lot of times somebody may think it’s just selling life insurance. It gets classified as one thing. We are going to do a skill gaps study on the insurance industry. We need to work on a community-wide plan to attract students and encourage them to go to school and take a Risk Management course at State College of Florida. But first you need to look at the jobs and the wage potential and the career pathway for someone so we can get them interested. 

What will continue from CareerEdge’s existing relationship with United Way?  We will continue to help the ALICE [Asset-Limited Income-Constrained Employed] families. For us and especially for CareerEdge, to help those families starts with financial stability. The ALICE families are underemployed individuals that need to be able to live beyond basic needs. For an ALICE family, if their car breaks down, they don’t have that extra money in a savings account. Not having that savings, that family can fall of the grid. They are working but they may not be able to afford to go to work. To economically be able to live and work in our community, someone needs to have a good job—and a good-paying job. It takes education. It takes a certification. It may take a degree. It may take an internship. We are going to be able to continue that work and partner with United Way on their financial stability initiatives. Then they will work with the wraparound services like financial coaching or something else very important.


Where can this go in the long run?  We’ve been working in workforce development for eight years now. We want to get to the point where we have greater alignment with organizations that are all working toward a common goal. We all need to come together as a community to address workforce issues and be able to fuel our economy with skilled workers, and I do believe we are going to be able to do that with the Chamber.