Earn Up: Connecting Companies on the First Coast to Future Talent

Finding and hiring the right talent is an essential part of any growing business. Not having enough people to fill needed roles can lead to decreased productivity and lost revenue for businesses of all sizes and types.

This is especially true in Northeast Florida—one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. Businesses often struggle to connect with talented individuals to fill open roles as more and more older workers retire, new roles are created and current workers are promoted or move on to new positions.

Earn Up, powered by JAXUSA Partnership (a division of the JAX Chamber), is addressing the talent shortage on the First Coast by attracting and developing talent and connecting them with local businesses. This organization partners with education, business and community leaders through a shared framework that supports long-term economic growth and better outcomes for workers and businesses alike.

Anna Lebesch

An important aspect of the Earn Up mission is to connect young people with career development resources in major industries in the region. This starts with professional development and workshops in school districts in the area, as well as working with teachers, counselors and college administrators, says Anna Lebesch, senior vp of stratey and talent development at JAXUSA Partnership. The organization also works with community-based organizations such as Junior Achievement, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Goodwill to do youth training as well as transitioning adults and veterans who are looking to start a new career.

Targeted Industries

Lebesch says that the organization discovered that there was a lack of public knowledge of the industries in Northeast Florida, including what industries were growing and the career opportunities and pathways that exist within those industries.

In response, Earn Up now targets several major industries, including advanced manufacturing, transportation, logistics, health and biomedical, information technologies, innovation and financial services.

The Earn Up website now includes direct links to the companies in these industries as well as spotlight articles about the people who work in them.

“We not only want our audience to know what the career opportunities are in those industries, but we want them to be able to see actual people who work in those industries,” says Lebesch.

Strong Job Market

Unlike other regions that struggled in recent years during the pandemic, the Jacksonville area has maintained a strong job market with one of the lowest unemployment rates in Florida, says Lebesch.

“There continues to be a lot of opportunity for individuals who are either coming out of high school or our colleges or are transitioning adults,” she says.

“One of our goals is to really make sure that when they’re looking at what opportunities are available to them—that they’re really aligning their thinking with where the job growth is happening,” she says.

A Changing Workforce

Lebesch emphasizes that while there may be growing opportunities in the region, companies need to be aware of the changing demographics of the workforce.

“There are fewer young people today compared to those who are currently in the workforce. So, I think one of the challenges that all companies are faced with is, as they have individuals in their workforce that are retiring, there’s not going to be as many people to come in and take those jobs,” she says.

As a result, companies are taking steps to appeal to the workers of the future.

“I certainly see companies really looking at what their work culture is—what their environment is like. Looking at not only how…they compensate their employees, but how…they provide other support activities,” she says. One important way that companies are doing this is to offer more work-from-home or hybrid work scenarios to better match workers’ lifestyles.

Work-Based Learning

Lebesch encourages businesses looking to attract more talent and help develop new workers to visit the Earn Up website (earnup.org) and to get involved in the work-based learning activities.

“Our colleges and our school districts need individuals throughout companies to participate in these work-based learning activities. It can be anything from having an intern to just allowing somebody to job shadow or being a guest speaker for the day. Because a lot of times individuals really don’t know what jobs are in various industries, and this is a way to connect the companies to that future talent,” she says.

“Our goal is to be that resource that really connects the business community to the future talent that they’re trying to source,” says Lebesch.