PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News at 10) – “I want people to feel comfortable to say, ‘I want to change careers, but I want to be safe’,” said Belinthia Berry who serves as the Dean of Workforce at St. Petersburg College in Pinellas County.

523,000, or 5% of Florida, was jobless this past June. And as a direct effect of the pandemic, many businesses were at risk.

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“It’s to the point now where I’m riding by seeing people hiring [with] signing bonuses,” said Berry.

After nearly a year of low employment numbers, the U.S. labor market saw an employment increase in July, giving hope as concerns of Coronavirus continued.

On a larger scale, the economy added over 900,000 jobs in July according to the U.S. Labor Department and the unemployment rate dropped to a 5.4% low nationwide.

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Officials with St. Petersburg College are looking to lower unemployment numbers even more by training Pinellas County residents free of charge. It’s an initiative meant to help people gain the skills they need and ultimately build our workforce back up after it took such a hard hit from the pandemic.

“We understand because we’re all going through it too. Me as a worker here, I was home, I’m here now. But you have to take the step,” berry explained. She says it’s short-term training for high-wage jobs. “Service, retail, hospitality, and we all know that healthcare is huge, it’s up. We’ve serviced, already 920 residents. We’ve spent over $650,000 dollars in scholarships.”

The team is expediting the process by working directly with employers to get workers working.

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“We know we want to work for the dollars, but also mix it with your passion,” she said.