Local officials discuss potential impacts of state workforce system overhaul
Kim Bodine, the executive director of CareerSource Gulf Coast, isn’t sure what her district will look like after a statewide push to overhaul Florida’s beleaguered workforce system.
The effort is complex, involving several pieces of legislation that were passed in 2021 which accomplish goals from instituting letter grades for local workforce boards to centralizing the system’s intake system to allow for better communication between agencies.
But despite this uncertainty, she tried to remain reassuring when she approached the Gulf County Board of County Commissioners at their regular session meeting on September 27.
“If it ends up in some way that I’m not the director of this region anymore, I will just commit to you that I will be here until the end for transition purposes and to help people understand how Gulf County operates and why we do the things we do here that we don’t do in other counties,” she said.
“We’re not going to walk away from it. We’re going to make sure that whatever happens that we leave you in a good place.”
But she couldn’t help but express some of her concerns, most of which centered around potential efforts from the state to consolidate or eliminate some of the state’s local CareerSource boards, like CareerSource Gulf Coast, which services Bay, Gulf and Franklin Counties.
This move, she feared, if not carefully considered, could spread the workforce system’s resources too thin, especially in rural areas, where boards might encompass increasingly large land areas.
“Personally, I’m concerned that this could be detrimental to especially rural counties,” she told the commissioners. “You know, when you have a larger region, sometimes you get a little bit lost in the mix. Richard Williams is the director of the five counties north of us. He’s got a 3300 square mile region. So you know, if we went to eight counties, that’s a lot to cover for any board director.”
Florida’s current workforce system encompasses CareerSource Florida, the Department of Economic Opportunity and 24 local workforce development boards that provide services to employers and job seekers.
It became the target of state lawmakers following the exposure of corrupt practices in two local workforce boards by the Tampa Bay Tribune in 2018.
The investigation into CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay uncovered, in part, that under the boards’ former CEO Edward Peachey, employees benefited from phantom job connections.
The 2021 legislation passed unanimously through both the state House and Senate aims to prevent corruption like this going forward, but they also go much further than this.
With House Bills 1505 and 1507, the state attempts to create greater flexibility and more streamlined processes, which they hope will help them respond more effectively to the changing labor needs of the state.
Bodine’s concerns rest mostly with a specific provision within the later, House Bill 1507, the Reimagining Education and Career Help (REACH) Act, which would give the governor ability to control, consolidate, or even abolish the state’s local workforce development boards.
“I think, in our area, people like the fact that we’re able to respond locally to needs for that particular area, because all three of our counties are different,” she told the Star. “Gulf County is very different from Franklin County. And both of them are very different from Bay County.”
Bodine told the county commissioners that it appeared processes aiming to determine whether and where consolidation might be necessary were likely to move quickly in the coming months. But an exact timeline for these processes is unclear, especially since the move will require federal approval.
Funding for Florida’s workforce system comes largely from the federal level. In order for DeSantis to gain more control over the local workforce boards, the U.S. Department of Labor would have to sign off on a new state waiver under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
In April 2021, Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, who has championed the workforce overhaul legislation, said the state would be asking for this waiver because federal workforce money currently comes with too many “strings” attached.
“We’re asking them to remove the federal strings that limit our ability to be innovative and do this well,” Sprowls said last year.
DOL would have 90 days to approve any waiver application after it was received. The agency has indicated it will not do so without local approval.
Bodine said that the state has hired a consulting firm, Ernst and Young, to help conduct statewide research that will be necessary to apply for this waiver, as well as research needed to carry out other portions of the REACH Act.
To carry out this research, the agency has scheduled a series of phone calls with local CareerSource boards, local elected officials, state elected officials and other involved parties to gauge whether they approve of any consolidation and where their concerns might lay.
Bodine said these meetings would be conducted in small, closed virtual settings through December, when a more conclusive plan is released.
In their meeting, the Gulf County Commissioners indicated their support for Bodine and keeping CareerSource Gulf Coast as local as possible.
“We’ll try to help and tell them we don’t want to be messed with,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond.