FutureMakers Coalition creates job pipeline for Hurricane Ian survivors

Reporter: Lindsey Sablan Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

We go to the beach for the sun, sand and saltwater, but it’s the people who bring life to Southwest Florida’s beaches and their livelihoods are on the line. Fortunately, FutureMakers Coalition has a job pipeline ready to help hospitality workers.

From live music to donating sales, businesses like Fort Myers Brewing Company and Buckett’s Wings & More are doing what they can to help out-of-work hospitality workers.

“We have so many people here in Southwest Florida that are ready to work; they just need the opportunity,” said Tessa LeSage with FutureMakers.

LeSage sees that the need for help is great, but she understands there’s a more significant issue at play.

“Our goal right now is that 55% of working-age adults have the credentials that are needed to fill in-demand jobs,” LeSage said.

LeSage is part of an experiment that is bearing results. It started in 2015, well before Hurricane Ian, and is more necessary than ever. FutureMakers collaborates with different groups to fix major social issues. LeSage’s problem to solve? Getting adults in Southwest Florida qualified for jobs that are open and growing.

“FutureMakers Coalition is a collective impact initiative,” LeSage said. “It’s a network that is working to transform the workforce in Southwest Florida.”

LeSage acknowledges that words like “coalition,” “initiative” and “network” can make people’s eyes glaze over.

“I always see all the problems, which is… I mean, I’m a realist,” LeSage said.

But LeSage has a plan. She realizes Southwest Florida’s economy can’t grow if it has no business, and businesses can’t grow if they don’t have qualified employees. So, FutureMakers and Florida Gulf Coast University identified four industries that need workers:
Teaching and healthcare have immediate openings, and manufacturing and logistics are growing in Florida. From there, they reach out to people who want better-paying jobs but lack the credentials.

“Get a better job and change, really, the trajectory of their families’ lives for generations to come,” LeSage said.

Navigators (essentially guidance counselors) strategically positioned at places like the Fort Myers Housing Authority find the people and connect them to job education.

We met a woman who never got her GED… she wanted to go back to school,” LeSage said. “Her mother had been ill, and she had been at Lee Health with her working through that illness and saw how the nurses responded to her mom and knew that that’s something that she wanted to do. And so the navigator worked with her to help her earn her CNA, certified nursing assistant, and got her a job at Lee Health. And now she’s literally working on the floor where her mother received care.”

Those navigators are now reaching out to Hurricane Ian survivors who lost jobs on the barrier islands. LeSage is also considering adding construction to the industries they train, since it will take years for Southwest Florida to rebuild. While she sees all the extant problems, she also looks to the future to find solutions.

“We can literally do anything if we work together and are willing to sort of look at what the real issues are and tackle those,” LeSage said.

That’s why Tessa LeSage is one of Gulfshore Life’s 2022 women of the year.

The federal government thinks her idea is a good one. It just awarded a massive $23 million grant to FGCU and FutureMakers for training to fill 1,700 jobs. Of the 55% of working adults they need to be qualified for in-demand jobs by 2025, 42% have received the necessary training. FutureMakers says these new navigators will help them reach the goal in time.

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