Brevard businesses buckle under labor shortage

·6 min read
Space Coast employers in every job sector are having the same problem — the challenges of hiring and retaining workers.
Space Coast employers in every job sector are having the same problem — the challenges of hiring and retaining workers.

Dear FLORIDA TODAY subscribers,

If you’re looking for a job, there are plenty available on the Space Coast and I'm not just talking about flipping burgers.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, and most importantly, thank you for being a loyal subscriber to FLORIDA TODAY. If you are one of our long-time print subscribers and haven’t activated your digital account yet, you can do so at floridatoday.com/activate.

Additionally, if you’re not a subscriber and this email has been forwarded to you, please consider becoming one. Visit floridatoday.com/subscribe.

This week, FLORIDA TODAY Growth and Development Editor Dave Berman wrote a startling piece about the severe shortage in the Space Coast labor force.

“Brevard County's unemployment rate had soared as high as 13.2% in April 2020, after many employers laid off staff as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dave reported in his story which published Wednesday on our website. “But it has since steadily decreased, dropping to 3.4% by November, the latest-available figure.”

During the height of the pandemic, accusations were flying on social media that workers were staying home and enjoying the benefit of unemployment payments from the state, boosted by Federal coronavirus relief payments. In our 321 Flavor: Where Brevard Eats Facebook group, it was a nearly daily comment on posts about restaurant staffing shortages.

But Dave says while that might have been true a year ago, it certainly isn’t true today.

“The federal supplemental unemployment benefits programs have ended,” Dave said in an email exchange with me this week. “Yet the labor crunch continues. So the general view now is that, while some people may have taken advantage of the benefits at one time, there were other factors at play then. And that this is not an issue at all today.”

So why such a major hole in the work force?

As Dave’s story recounts, COVID prompted many people to rethink their lives. Many people in their late 50s and early 60s chose to retire from the workforce early during the pandemic - leaving a substantial hole in institutional knowledge in all sorts of industries.

Further Dave found in his reporting that many families that were once two income decided to drop to one income thus keeping one member of the family out of the workforce.

And while no one is faulting people for making the right decision for themselves or their family, the situation makes managing a business, to say the least, frustrating.

“Many employers are very frustrated by the difficulty they're experiencing in filling job openings,” Dave said. “It's most visible to the general public at service businesses like restaurants, which have had to cut hours or not use their whole seating capacity because they don't have enough employees. But the issue is prevalent throughout the economy, from health care to high-tech companies.”

Additionally frustrating is keeping those employees on staff when other companies “poach” workers. I asked Dave how bad that situation was on the Space Coast.

“It has been an issue in some sectors of the economy,” Dave said. “For example, one high-tech company looking for engineers may be able to lure employees from another company with a more attractive pay and benefits package. It also has been an issue in Brevard County government, where employees are leaving to go to higher-paying jobs in the private sector.”

And those benefit packages are getting more and more enticing. Dave said some companies now offer more flexible work hours, work-from-home options when feasible, company-subsidized child care, even pet insurance.

I’ve worked with Dave for years when I served as a page designer and as a digital producer. I’ve always enjoyed his work and usually learn something new in each of his stories. So I wanted to know what he learned that he didn’t know before he started writing about the Brevard labor shortage.

“The importance of an employer having strong "onboarding" orientation and constant feedback for newly hired employees, so new hires feel welcome and are not having second-thoughts about taking the job,” Dave said. “That's a way to prevent the position from being a "revolving door" of people quitting after a short period of time.”

Dave said another thing he learned was that the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity projects that some job categories will have growth of more than 40% in Brevard by 2029. You can see the full list of those jobs in his story here.

L3Harris' Brevard footprint

Another story Dave worked on this week dove into a corporate reorganization of Brevard’s third largest employer, L3Harris.

In his story, Dave told readers that L3Harris was eliminating one of its four business-focused segments and rolling the remnants into two remaining segments that are based here on the company’s expansive Palm Bay campus.

I wanted to understand a bit more how this would affect the company’s local operations.

Dave said it means more of the company's research-and-development and engineering personnel and other resources will be part of the two Palm Bay-based segments (integrated mission systems; space and airborne systems), which already had been the company's two largest, based on annual revenue. He said the move should help the segments remain competitive with other companies when competing for government, military and commercial contracts.

Given the first part of our newsletter and the issue with finding workers, I asked Dave if L3Harris was transferring people from other parts of the country to fill jobs in Brevard, if the workers would stay at their current location or if these would be open positions. Dave said that remains to be seen.

“The company has not at this point said that there would be specific transfers of jobs to Brevard County. But L3Harris already is Brevard County's third-largest employer (behind Brevard Public Schools and Health First), with about 7,750 local employees,” he said.

You can read Dave's story on L3Harris here or on the labor shortage here. I've also placed them down below with a few other subscriber-exclusive stories we brought you this week.

Growth and development can be a challenging beat on the Space Coast. Why? Because there always seems to be something new on the horizon, land being cleared, foundations being poured, etc. Dave said the biggest aid in keeping up with everything was feedback and suggestions from readers about the stories he writes – stories your subscription helps us provide.

You can email Dave anytime at dberman@floridatoday.com. You can also reach out to him on Facebook and Twitter at @ByDaveBerman.

As always you can reach out to me at rlanders@floridatoday.com or 321-242-3627. Or find me on Twitter or Instagram at @ByRobLanders.

Thanks for reading and I’ll be back with more next week.

Rob Landers

Sr. Multimedia Journalist

FLORIDA TODAY

This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Brevard businesses buckle under labor shortage

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting