By Steve Patterson (Florida Times-Union) As thousands of people gained jobs, Jacksonville-area unemployment dropped last month to a rate of 3.3 percent, one of the lowest levels in Florida, data the state released Friday showed.
The exact number of new workers is murky, with estimates based on surveys reporting about 2,700 more people employed and estimates from federal employer data saying 9,100 jobs were filled.
By either measure, the counts reflect continuing job growth in Jacksonville’s five-county metro area, mirroring increases statewide.
“We’re really starting to see a large number of job openings,” said Adrienne Johnston, chief economist at Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity, whose agency has tallied statewide employment increases for 13 consecutive months.
Nine of the 10 job sectors the state tracks gained jobs in November, Johnston said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis celebrated the statewide gains, touting growth far above national rates as a product of his administration’s management of Florida’s economy.
“Our job growth rate is six times faster than the rest of the nation because we’ve worked hard to keep Florida open and protect the jobs of individual Floridians,” a release from DeSantis’ office quoted him saying. “Because we have protected their livelihoods, Floridians are confident in finding work and operating their own businesses.”
The 805,543 people working in the Jacksonville area number 53,465 more than November 2020, state figures said.
The governor has emphasized steps to grow Florida’s economy in recent weeks, from promoting cargo shipment through the state’s ports as an answer to supply-chain problems to visiting Nassau County this week to hand out a check to help Florida State College at Jacksonville increase truck-driver training.
Electrical Training Alliance of Jacksonville receives grant
The week began with DeSantis’s office distributing about $11 million in grants to programs using apprenticeships and career-opportunity projects to grow the workforce.
One of this week’s recipients was the Electrical Training Alliance of Jacksonville, which has seen an explosion in the use of a five-year apprenticeship program it began in the 1940s and later expanded to include a six-month “pre-apprenticeship.”
The program, which trains people when contractors can employ them, took on 110 apprentices this year compared to 15 in 2011 because a perfect storm of construction, economic timing and aging electricians has created a real need, said Danny Van Sickle, training director for the alliance.
Beginning in January, he said, the program will expand to offer pre-apprentice training two nights a week to 20 adults taking instruction at Baker County High School, while another 60 will be trained in Jacksonville. The program is using part of the $395,000 state grant to equip a computer lab at the high school and buy expensive books, tools and material the pre-apprentices will work with, Van Sickle said.
The program focuses on people who are already working full-time for contractors, but it also connects some applicants to businesses willing to take on another employee.
Although they were already common in field like electrical work, the tight labor market has made apprenticeships more attractive to employers trying to find workers who can grow into jobs that require special skills.
“We tell them that nobody knows anything the first day. We don’t expect them to know,” Van Sickle said. “What we expect from them is to show up on time every day and work hard and have a good attitude.”
Businesses in Northeast Florida could be especially receptive to training workers because of the area’s relatively low number of people seeking jobs.
The Jacksonville area’s 3.3 percent unemployment was tied for the fourth-lowest rate among the states 24 metro areas, and below any of the state’s other large metro areas. The area’s unemployment had been 3.7 percent in October.
Unemployment was at 3.6 percent statewide and 3.9 percent nationally last month, using the seasonally unadjusted measures the state applies to metro areas.
In contrast, Putnam County — just outside the metro area – had the state’s highest unemployment rate at 5.4 percent.
St. Johns County had the Jacksonville area’s lowest rate (and second-lowest statewide) at 2.6 percent, followed by Nassau County at 2.9 percent, Clay County at 3 percent, Baker County at 3.2 percent and Duval County at 3.6 percent.