– PAM NABORS –
President and CEO
CareerSource Central Florida
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived early last year, the nonprofit CareerSource Central Florida (CSCF) had been working toward a vision for how it wanted to connect Central Floridians to careers and develop skilled talent for businesses. “We wanted to create what we call a Sherpa experience,” said President and CEO Pam Nabors. “Sherpas help people climb mountains, but they don’t climb the mountains for them. That’s been our North Star, to assist on the career journey and inspire talent.” That assistance includes free career screening and counseling; job placement; skills training and education programs; paid internships; and talent acquisition for businesses.
Nabors, who has been at the helm of CSCF for more than eight years, is no newcomer to leading through crisis. She was a director at Capital Workforce Partners in Hartford, Connecticut, during the Great Recession in 2008.
“Many people, particularly in Connecticut, were greatly impacted by the financial crisis. I was excited about all the different ways the workforce development system could help them. My career has aligned with my desire to be able to contribute, particularly when people are experiencing difficult circumstances.”
– Pam Nabors
Pre-pandemic, in addition to developing the Sherpa experience, Nabors and her team had begun to explore virtual services and had created a Customer Contact Center 1-800 phone line so they could reach and engage with more job-seekers and businesses, build relationships and improve service, all of which would help CSCF climb the steep mountains ahead.
“We all knew by the end of February that an extraordinary emergency was coming,” Nabors said. “I’m proud of my leaders and my team because we flipped the switch very quickly to convert all our services to virtual platforms by March 16.”
The agency, which is state and federally funded, arranged to have its 250 employees work from home. It also placed its new Customer Contact Center at the forefront as it prepared for record-high unemployment. The phone line was supplemented by call center employees from the Orange County Convention Center. “I wouldn’t want to say we just snapped our fingers,” she said. “It was based on a lot of earlier work and the collaborative relationship we have built with the community. I love living and working in Central Florida because the collaboration and energy here is
Eventually, with Central Florida’s hospitality, restaurant and tourism industries taking the biggest wallop, at least 150,000 people lost jobs in those industries including thousands from Walt Disney World. Osceola County, in particular, was significantly affected because many tourism employees live there. Central Florida’s unemployment rate topped out at 22.6% in May 2020. In December 2020, it hovered at 6.9% — versus the pre-pandemic 2.5% rate of December 2019.
The need was tremendous in CSCF’s five-county region of Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Lake and Sumter counties, but the agency was up to the challenge. Since its fiscal year began in July, the organization has served more than 35,000 residents, a 50% increase from the same time frame the previous year. It has also placed more than 2,400 people into jobs and put another 753 into paid internships throughout Central Florida.
In addition to switching to a virtual model, CSCF achieved success by:Extending its hours initially to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. Launching Help is Here in Orange County to expand its outreach to the growing number of displaced workers and ramp up career services, especially internships, which were paid with $7 million in CARES Act funds from Orange County and federal emergency grant dollars. Help is Here served more than 2,500 people in Orange County and has been expanded to the other four counties.
Concentrating its paid internships in businesses that were directly helping with the COVID crisis, for a double win. For example, Feed the Need Florida, which was launched in March and led by the nonprofit 4Roots and 4 Rivers Restaurant Group, received interns to help distribute meals to needy families. The hope is that internships will turn into regular jobs.
Creating virtual workshops and virtual job fairs to help people improve their resumes, search for jobs and interview for employment. CSCF also created workshops for businesses that needed help finding talent in a virtual environment, especially for the growing number of jobs in essential areas such as transportation and deliveries, health care, and grocery and other retail.
Providing basic support and an empathetic ear for people frustrated in their attempts to obtain unemployment benefits through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). Although CSCF could not accept claims or make determinations about eligibility since it is not part of the DEO, Nabors said her team was able to reset PINs, hand out paper applications and give general advice.
CSCF helped thousands of struggling businesses, especially small ones, fill open positions. “We could train truck drivers and immediately put them to work,” she said. And health care companies were keen on hiring hospitality workers because of their advanced customer service skills. “There is a lot of alignment between hospitality workers’ skills and those sought by the health care industry.”
Nabors’ first job in the workforce development field was nearly three decades ago in Cocoa at Brevard Community College, now Eastern Florida State College, as a career counselor and industry trainer. She had just earned a master’s degree in personal psychology, now called industrial organizational psychology, at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne.
In that role, she did everything from writing people’s resumes to teaching Kennedy Space Center engineers how to write better memos. She managed her first grant, which helped space industry employees laid off during downsizing in the early 1990s. She spent a total of 10 years there and at Brevard Workforce before moving to Connecticut in 1998.
Then, in 2012, she was chosen to lead CareerSource Central Florida, which was then called Workforce Florida. “The agency was in the midst of extraordinary transition, but there was such opportunity,” Nabors said. “If you could write a dream job for me, this was it. I knew the organization with its resources could give much back to the community, and that’s truly been realized in the last year. That is the power of workforce development — connecting people who have talent to businesses that need that talent. It’s an incredible honor and privilege to be able to serve in this way.”
Born and raised in Buffalo, New York, she is a huge fan of the Buffalo Bills football team and said she misses her hometown’s Buffalo chicken wings, beef on weck sandwiches and sponge candy … but the snow? Not so much. “I miss it for four or five minutes on Christmas.”
She lightens the mood at the office with her recall of decades of song lyrics starting with the 1960s.
“My team jokes because I can belt out a song based on any cue or anything we’re talking about. There’s always a song line I can add to the conversation.”
– Pam Nabors
Nabors said she’s optimistic about the economic future but intends to keep her focus on finding opportunities for displaced tourism employees until that sector rebounds.
Pam Nabors urges people rebuilding their careers to take the first step: Reach out for help and network. “Often what happens is you find the little key that unlocks the very first door. You get a little positive feedback, and then it’s easier to go to the next one and the next one. Celebrate the small things, the little keys you’re able to turn so you can move through doors toward new opportunities.”