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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, baby boomers and millennials — the two largest U.S. cohorts in 2020 — continued to age over the past two decades, while smaller numbers of children were born from 2010 to 2020. Thanks to modern medicine, we are living longer, but birth rates are not keeping up with our aging population.

As social scientists and economists grapple with the implications of this inverted population pyramid, it is essential to note what this means for the workforce, especially in the near term.

According to 2022 Census data, nearly 58 million people are 65 and older, and many will continue to retire from the workforce. To make matters worse, many able-bodied adults choose not to participate in the workforce. This leaves a considerable talent gap and a shortage of available workers, which puts our economy at risk.

Almost all industries are affected, particularly healthcare or those in skilled trades, of which nearly half are over the age of 45. Have you ever tried to schedule a doctor’s appointment only to find out the next available slot is months away? Or experienced major sticker shock after needing renovation or electrical or plumbing repair?

This can be attributed, in part, to the talent gap and major shortage of workers in these fields. Sometimes, we must start at the micro level to find macro solutions. This is especially true for Southwest Florida, where the demands of a growing population require a steady flow of skilled workers.

According to a recent article in the Naples Daily News, Collier County’s labor force accounted for nearly 50% of job growth over the year in March among Southwest Florida’s three metros (Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties) with 4,000 non-agricultural jobs added.

Construction — not surprisingly — gained the most significant number of jobs.

We must ask ourselves: Where will the next generation of skilled young professionals come from?

Enter The Immokalee Foundation, whose mission is to create pathways to success for the youth of Immokalee, thus feeding the pipeline of Southwest Florida’s workforce.

For over 32 years, The Immokalee Foundation has created a win-win situation where our community benefits and our students’ lives are forever changed. Our students are no longer beholden to an average salary of $25,000 for males and $17,000 for females in Immokalee.

In fact, they earn a college degree or certification that leads to a well-paying career that earns them four, five, and sometimes six times the average salary in Immokalee — a dream most never imagined was possible.

This “win/win” is thanks to three essential tools provided by The Immokalee Foundation: education, empowerment, and hope.


The Immokalee Foundation provides a comprehensive educational journey for students, starting as early as kindergarten and continuing through postsecondary education. Beginning in middle school, learning opportunities extend beyond the four walls of a classroom to include workshops, field trips, summer camps, ACT prep, financial literacy, and tutoring.

With the knowledge that rising college tuition costs and the ensuing debt are significant barriers to achieving a postsecondary education and financial independence, Foundation students enrolled in the middle school program are assigned a Florida Prepaid Scholarship. They also receive scholarship money through the Foundation’s partnership with Take Stock in Children, which provides them with guaranteed tuition coverage for their postsecondary program of choice. Through our Take Stock affiliation, we can purchase scholarships at half price. Students also receive financial support to cover postsecondary-related expenses like textbooks, mandatory fees, or equipment required for courses of instruction.

While many students unfortunately come out of college unprepared for the workforce, Immokalee Foundation students are job-ready from day one upon graduation. Unburdened by tuition debt, our students begin their professional lives on the fast track to financial independence. Plus, an impressive 89% of our alumni are working in their of study.

The Immokalee Foundation’s educational support also extends to students who choose to forego college to achieve career success. Some join the growing trend of young workers going into the skilled trades or construction industry. Or they decide to pursue a military or law enforcement career.

The Immokalee Foundation has developed or partnered on three specific postsecondary options:

  1. The Career Pathways Learning Lab – an 18-home subdivision in Immokalee that serves as a hands-on professional career experience. In collaboration with BCB Homes and Immokalee Technical College, Foundation students work with industry professionals and learn about land development, home construction, marketing, and sales. The result is high-quality homes sold at or below market rate to meet Immokalee’s need for middle-income housing. By the time students complete their curriculum through the Engineering & Construction Management Pathway, they have received essential certifications and experience to land them a job almost immediately within the growing construction industry.
  2. Heavy Equipment Service Technician (HEST)Program – a two-year program in collaboration with Immokalee Technical College that provides students with practical experience in servicing heavy-duty vehicles designed for executing earthwork operations and other large construction tasks in Southwest Florida.
  3. Collier County Sheriff’s Office Public Safety Career Academy (CCSO) – a program in collaboration with CCSO that exposes students in the Education & Human Services Pathway to the criminal justice system, concentrating on emergency dispatching. By the time students exit the program, they have completed 232 hours of training required to take the exam to become a state-certified public safety telecommunicator in Florida. They also have the option to begin the application and hiring process at CCSO and start on-the-job training as a full-time dispatcher.


This word can mean different things in different organizations. For The Immokalee Foundation, it signifies our students waking up to what they can do while keeping them motivated with a clear vision of a brighter future.

The cycle of empowerment at The Immokalee Foundation starts with equipping students with the necessary tools and resources to succeed, keeping them accountable and committed, and engaging their families as an extra means of support.

Each student’s confidence in reaching their full potential is maximized through their participation in career expos, early literacy programming, life skills training, internships, and mentorships — all part of the Foundation’s highly specialized career programming specific to the four Career Pathways.


Hope is ignited in our students by witnessing the thousands of generous supporters and community partners work together to enrich their lives.

Hope gives them the courage to persevere through challenging circumstances, work towards a better future, and emerge victorious.

Since 1991, over 15,000 young people have entered the workforce, most of whom are right here serving Southwest Florida. These highly skilled men and women now give back to the community that graciously nurtured and supported their success.

Our alumni have become your doctors, nurses, teachers, builders, carpenters, electricians, entrepreneurs, and problem solvers of tomorrow—each contributing to the greater economic good as they help create a better community for all of us to live, work, and play.

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