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A consequence of a low jobless rate: not enough qualified workers in South Florida

People stand in front of a projection reading 'Tech hiring fair'.
Lynne Sladky
File - Visitors attend the Venture Miami Tech Hiring Fair at the Miami-Dade College, Wolfson campus, in April of 2023, in Miami.

For every 40 people in the South Florida workforce, about one doesn't have a job. That gives the region the lowest unemployment rate in the nation among large areas, at 2.5%.

It also means employers are having a very difficult time finding qualified workers to fill job opportunities. Seven out of 10 businesses in Miami-Dade County say they can't find workers ready to fulfill their open jobs, according to a new survey by FIU's Pérez Metropolitan Center.

"If you are not able to compete with employers elsewhere, whether remote employers or elsewhere in South Florida, by offering a competitive salary, you will not get the talent that you need," said Maria Ilcheva, associate director of the Metropolitan Center and the survey's author.

She pointed out pay isn't the only explanation for why local businesses can't find skilled workers. Still, it is the top issue for job seekers and paying competitive salaries is the top challenge. Over 80% of the businesses surveyed in Miami-Dade County rank offering competitive salaries as at least moderating challenging. The smaller the firm, the more difficult it is.

"We've seen an increase in wage offerings. We've seen more flexible work options being offered [with employers] trying to keep pace and stay competitive with what the workforce needs. But at the same time, there are obvious challenges," said Ilcheva.

Among those challenges is meeting the region's high cost of living. South Florida's inflation consistently outpaces the national rate thanks to the higher cost of housing. Single family homes in Miami-Dade County have risen each month for more than 12 years. The median price was up 17% in February from a year earlier to $650,000, according to data from the Miami Association of Realtors. The median condominium price hit $420,000, up almost 8% in the past year in Miami-Dade County. Median home and condo prices in Broward and Palm Beach counties have experienced similar increases.

READ MORE: Work and wine: South Florida's job market and inflation keep outpacing the nation

A third of Miami-Dade employers surveyed report recruiting employees from across the region. A fifth look for workers throughout the state.

As businesses are casting wider nets to fill jobs, jobseekers also are able to expand their search thanks to remote work options and in hopes of living in areas with lower costs of living.

"We're seeing even people living in Palm Beach County and traveling all the way [to Miami-Dade County]. We're seeing people from Miami or Broward counties traveling to Lee County for work," Ilcheva said. "The work is becoming more spread out. Remote and flexible work options have a role to play in what's accessible to people in terms of jobs."

The FIU survey is a comprehensive look at the needs of local employers. Previous studies were statewide or national in scope. The localized look found three out of four companies are not confident or just don't know how well they are prepared for the changing nature of the local labor pool.

Three years ago, over half of employers surveyed throughout Florida said "workforce generational shifts" will disrupt their businesses in the next decade. That was more than those companies that cited changes to core technologies. The Florida Chamber of Commerce has identified education and "employability skills," such as communication and organization, to be among the skills in the highest demand but shortest supply.

Educational institutions "obviously need to be more focused on how the economy is changing, what employers need, how that labor market is evolving in terms of skills and in terms of the new candidates that are coming on the labor market," said Ilcheva.

She includes traditional colleges and universities, but also vocational and certificate training providers.

It's a circular relationship, too. As employees gain skills, employers "need to do their part and offering competitive salaries," she said.

Tom Hudson is WLRN's Senior Economics Editor and Special Correspondent.
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