Manatee networking program draws college students into work world early

Networking program draws college students into work world early

Special to the Bradenton HeraldNovember 18, 2013 

State College of Florida students Jessica Baldwin, right, and Priscilla Sosa talk about the importance of networking with Manatee Young Professionals member Stewart Moon. Photo by MATT M. JOHNSON

BRADENTON -- Within the next few years, 11,000 students at State College of Florida will be looking for jobs. Ask Manatee County business owners and hiring managers, and they'll say they want to hire as many as fit their business needs.

Unless brought together by a job posting, graduates and businesses generally don't connect. Stacy Morgan, sales and marketing coordinator for the Bradenton Marauders minor league baseball team, sees that lost connection as losing the business of everyone a local graduate knows.

"One of your biggest assets is having people who know the area," Morgan said.

With the goal of convincing local talent to stay local, Morgan and other members of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce have opened their organization to SCF students. A Workforce Partnership between the chamber and the college allows any for-credit student to join the chamber's Manatee Young Professionals group.

The partnership exempts students from paying the $70 annual fee and brings them in as full members.

At a kickoff networking event Thursday at Pier 22, SCF nursing student Jessica Baldwin was one of 10 students meeting and greeting. Baldwin hopes to work in the Manatee County area when she finishes her nursing program two years from now.

"It's never too early to put our names out there," she said.

This is the first time the 260-member chamber youth group has opened to students. Jacki Dezelski, the chamber's vice president of community development, sees the move as innovative. Having students and young working professionals network as equals, she says, differs from student mentorship programs commonly operated by chambers around the nation.

Mixing students with working people age 40 and younger has an advantage over mentorships because the group's professionals understand the students' perspective on the work world.

"I think it can be more comfortable for students to interact with

people who are closer to that student experience," she said.

Statistics point to the loss of young talent as a problem in some areas of the United States. A 2011 report published by the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution shows 10 states in the Great Lakes area and Northeast losing their under-45 residents by double digit percentages annually to out migration. Florida actually gained in that age group by more than 5 percent annually during the first decade of the millennium.

But Mike Mears, provost of SCF's Bradenton campus, said this statistic doesn't show what local employers perceive anecdotally. They believe the area is losing its college-trained talent.

Input from those employers has pushed the school to start a number of degree programs, Mears said, one of the newest being the school's 3-year-old associate of science degree in biotechnology.

"If the programs are not offered, people go away and never come back," he said.

Mears worked alongside members of the Manatee Young Professionals, students and SCF president Carol Probstfeld to start the new networking program as another piece of the employment puzzle.

There are other local partnerships between post-secondary schools and business. The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee operates an internship program, while Manatee Technical Institute offers a company-specific welding program that trains students to work at the new Air Products manufacturing facility opening at Piney Point.

Stewart Moon Jr., co-owner of Air & Energy in Holmes Beach, was one of the young employers at Thursday's event. He said he wants new employees joining his 40-person workforce to have local ties because it makes for a more stable employee base.

"If they have family here, they're not going to leave," Moon said.

The networking program could attract enough students to far outnumber the professionals in the group. Manatee Young Professionals plans to offer fee-free memberships to all post-secondary students in the county. In addition to SCF, the organization has contacted officials at USF and has plans to reach out to other schools in and near Manatee County.

Moon, who was on the committee that started negotiating student memberships in May, said he hopes future networking events draw hundreds of students. If students eventually outnumber professionals, the group may have to consider "an evolution in programming," said the chamber's Dezelski.

Schools wanting to be involved in a Workforce Partnership with the chamber pay a $1,000 annual fee.

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