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“The urgency is beyond critical”: New education facility to tackle trades worker shortage in Hendry County

Vacant car parts store could become the new home of a trades education facility in LaBelle
Posted at 7:29 PM, May 21, 2024

LABELLE, Fla. — Hendry County’s population is growing fast, and a local business owner said he needs more trade workers to keep up.

Fox 4’s Hendry County Community Correspondent, Austin Schargorodski, works in the area every day and has reported on this issue in the past. So, the Superintendent of Schools called him to let him know he has a plan to help out.

It involves a classic car parts store that currently sits vacant near downtown LaBelle - it could soon be the home of a new trades education center that would host welding, plumbing, and HVAC classes.

James Williams manages a plumbing company in Hendry County and said his need for trades workers has never been higher.

“The need - the urgency is beyond a critical level at this point. New construction is such a high demand that we don’t have the plumbers to control that,” said Williams.

James Williams, manager of Modern Services.
James Williams, manager of Modern Services.

Williams said as older workers retire, the need for new skilled workers grows year after year. He believes the new trade education facility would have a big impact.

“On top of taking stress off of myself and my guys with being able to get more employees and better-trained employees, it would be a great start for a lot of people,” said Williams.

Last month, Austin Schargorodski told you about LaBelle’s plan to build a workforce development center at the water treatment plant to provide on-site training for future employees. Superintendent of Hendry County Schools, Michael Swindle, said the district is expanding on that workforce development plan with this new education center.

“We’re very excited to be on the verge of almost being able to double in size and offer to a whole new range of students here in LaBelle to get the training they need to be successful,” said Swindle.

Michael Swindle, Superintendent of Hendry County School District.
Michael Swindle, Superintendent of Hendry County School District.

Swindle said the school district takes labor force demand research from the workforce development board to determine what training the new facility would focus on. He believes this facility would help supply the demand for trades workers in Hendry and nearby counties.

“This training is in high demand in any of those counties and the region. So, what we’ve done is taken that list and narrowed it down - we’re looking at plumbing trades, welding, and HVAC,” Swindle explained.

Swindle said the auto parts shop is already outfitted for their needs, so they would be able to open the facility in August.

“If we’re able to secure that, we won’t use state funds that are meant for education, but funds that we’ve collected through the half-cent sales tax and through our workforce development,” said Swindle.

Swindle said his next step is to pitch the proposal to buy the building to the school board.