Reach Higher Convening Recap

“The ultimate outcome of education is not a diploma. It’s a great job and life.”

Brandon Busteed, Executive Director, Education & Workforce Development, Gallup

It’s often been said that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Just as true: you don’t know what you’ve got until you see what someone else has. Last week, GSCC staff members were part of a small delegation to represent Florida at First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher” convening in Colorado. This conference focused on preparing students with work ready skills. Presenters, ranging from corporate leaders of Fortune 500 companies to the President of the Education Commission of the United States, discussed the growing national need for education policies around work readiness for all students.

Much of the conversation revolved around the critical need for talented, engaged, and well-supported school counselors. Nationally, more than 20% of high schools lack any school counselor, and over 1.6 million students attend a school with a sworn law enforcement officer but not a school counselor (Dr. Joyce V. Brown, National Consortium for School Counseling and Postsecondary Success). Reflection from these presentations highlighted the great resource guidance counselors are for our own community. In Sarasota County, our students are fortunate to school guidance counseling staff at every school K-12. Our local guidance counselors have been the key to our Talent4Tomorrow Partnership efforts in increasing FAFSA completion, and expanding awareness of financial opportunities for post-secondary education.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) was another primary area of focus of several presenters and panelists, including an informative site visit to Roy J. Wasson Academic Campus in Colorado Springs District 11. Departments of Education around the country are seeking opportunities to partner with companies to align CTE programs at the high school and postsecondary levels to workforce needs. Ensuring that students are aware of these opportunities is a key component of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law in December 2015 as a replacement for No Child Left Behind. Locally, The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce’s Talent4Tomorrow Partnership has placed career awareness at the forefront of its programmatic work. Recently, Talent4Tomorrow gathered 84 of Sarasota County’s brightest students for an “Experience Engineering” luncheon. Students engaged in roundtable discussions with 31 engineers from 14 local companies about the many engineering opportunities available in the greater Sarasota community, the diversity of specialties within that field, and tips for gaining the most of their time while in college.

Internships and hands-on career opportunities was also a strong theme. During a panel presentation, Noel Ginsburg, Chairman and CEO of Intertech Plastics, spoke of the 2.6% youth unemployment in Switzerland due to apprenticeship programs and the economic benefit to companies that invest in these opportunities, including lower long-term training costs. Carl A. Marchetto, Vice President and General Manager of Commercial Space at Lockheed Martin, also discussed the need for a stronger infrastructure for smaller companies to “plug and play” in experiential opportunities for students. However, Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Education & Workforce Development for Gallup, shared that only 4.6% of students in grades 5th-12th are interning for a local business. With little hands-on experience, how is a student to discern whether a career path is right for them? And without the confidence of an internship to guide their career pathway, how can students feel comfortable taking on massive debts to pursue a degree in a particular field? Again, Sarasota County boasts strong relationships between business, schools, and universities that allow students to gain those hands on experiences. Whether it be at the annual State of Jobs conference for high school (and soon, middle school) students, or internships with incredible organizations such as PGT, Sun Hydraulics, FCCI Insurance and Mote Marine Laboratories (to name a few), there are many exciting ways for local students to gain real-world knowledge of career pathways. Career exploration continues to expand within the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership’s Local College Access Network, and a community asset map focused on internships is in the final data-gathering stages.

During the long flight home, it was easy to think about the incredible community we have in Sarasota. Though we learned so much from Colorado, and well as the other 48 states present at the “Reach Higher” convening, it is safe to say that Sarasota is making enviable strides towards preparing our students to be ready for the 21st century workplace.

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