By B.C. Manion
John Hagen, the president and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council, Inc., is calling for local business owners to get involved in preparing the future work force.
Hagen issued the challenge at a meeting of the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce’s economic development committee meeting.
Businesses need to connect with schools to provide more opportunities for students, said Hagen, who is the steering committee chair for Pasco County Schools Career Academies, a group of educators and business leaders working together to improve local career and technical education.
The idea is to give students a chance to broaden their learning experiences through internships, apprenticeships, mentoring and other opportunities at local businesses, Hagen said.
He advocates introducing students to occupational options early, to give students a better idea of the broad range of choices.
The world of work is constantly evolving, Hagen added. So, students who are entering their freshmen year of high school will find themselves vying for jobs that have not even been invented yet.
To be competitive, area businesses and educational institutions must work in concert to provide training so graduates can handle specific demands of today’s jobs and also equip them with critical thinking skills, so they can solve problems that have not even yet surfaced, Hagen said.
Pasco County has 67,000 students and next year will have 24 career academies, specializing in everything from automotive technology to culinary arts to engineering.
Students in those academies need the real world experience they can gain through exposure and experiences in the work place, Hagen said.
“This is not a ‘nice to have’ it’s a ‘must have,’ ” Hagen said. “This is what you need to do to preserve your businesses,” Hagen said.
Companies that are smart reach out and begin building relationships with the district’s career academies.
He recounted a story about a friend of his who has a highly successful Chik-fil-A franchise. Hagen asked his friend if he had labor problems.
The friend told Hagen that he hadn’t had labor problems in years because he volunteers to go into schools to give talks about the proper steps to follow when applying for a job.
He lets them use applications from Chik-fil-A as a practice form, and when he concludes his talk, he offers to let them submit their applications if they’re interested in working for him and he keeps them on file until an opening develops.
By reaching out, he’s been able to hire top quality kids and those kids have attracted their friends to come eat at the restaurant, Hagen said.
Hagen also noted that business owners sometimes complain that the schools don’t spell out how their business can get involved.
“This is about leadership,” Hagen said. “It’s about offering solutions. You offer the thing that you can do,” he said.
If the school responds that your suggestion won’t work, then suggest something else. If the timing is wrong, propose another time, Hagen said.
“We are not getting the business involvement we need,” Hagen said.
Communities that learn how to prepare their work force will be able to expand existing businesses and attract new ones, Hagen said.
“If we don’t get this done, we’re going to have lots of low-paying jobs in Pasco County,” he said.
On the other hand, if businesses and the school district can engage in a meaningful partnership, where students are able to learn and practice skills in the work place and are exposed to a broader array of occupational choices – then everyone stands to benefit, Hagen said.
When kids can see why what they’re learning in classrooms is important, they get energized about their education, Hagen said.
“Then, kids will so fueled up about their education, it will be transformative,” he said. Those students will be so “super-charged” that they’ll pull the rest of the system along with them, Hagen said.
“This is your work force,” Hagen said. “Start helping solve the problem.”
Hagen’s words resonated with Jeff Novotny, president of the Wesley Chapel chamber, who mentioned the group has a history of supporting education.
He told Hagen that his organization wants to get more involved in work force development efforts.
“You have the full support of the chamber,” Novotny said, and he asked Hagen to send the chamber a list of the school district’s career academies.
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