As economy struggles, more people are forced to learn new skills

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - As the unemployment rate in South Florida and the Treasure Coast continues to hover above the national average, a growing number of people who have lost their jobs have had to adapt to a new reality -- new skills are needed to find new jobs.

"I see people that have a Master's degree and they're going back to school," said Sylvana Sanchez, a West Palm Beach resident who aspired to be a teacher.

In the face of cuts to education budgets, Sanchez turned turned to Workforce Alliance and a program that has already helped hundreds in Palm Beach County.

As some industries decline, Workforce Alliance has used state and federal grants to award scholarships to universities, colleges and regional career centers to help people learn new skills.

"If you are someone who has lost a job, we have the ability to get you some skills to get you current and upgraded to be able to get you new employment again," said Mimi Coenen of Workforce Alliance. "The benefits are endless. It's your stepping stone for your next big career."

Unemployment in Palm Beach County is higher than the national average -- 9.8% -- and it's even higher in St. Lucie County -- 12.6%.

Despite that, there is growing demand for carpenters, interior designers and, as a population grows, nurses.

Sanchez has traded a career in education for a career in medicine.

"Next thing you know, they were helping me with books, with my tuition and, also, they're in the process of helping me with child care," she said. "I want to be a nurse practitioner in the NICU. I love kids [and] pediatrics. That's what my plans are. In the field of nursing, I am not worried, " said Sanchez..

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