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Focus on Manatee: It’s crucial to pay attention to the aspirations of our local students

Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to meet with several different groups of local students.

I spent time with a fifth grade class, a Girl Scout troop of middle and high school students, and a group of high school juniors through the Junior Leadership Manatee program.

In all three we talked about their aspirations and how they match with local career opportunities. These conversations offered a refreshing perspective on how tuned into their future many of our community’s youth are, even at an early age.

The heart of every business is its people — its workforce — and the Manatee Chamber is committed to strengthening workforce development.

I presented the Manatee Chamber’s Project TEACH program to the fifth grade class. It offers an interactive opportunity to stress the importance of first impressions — and, conversely, the dangers of judging a book by its cover — and explore careers that interest the students.

Through the first impressions exercise, the kids made guesses about my age, education, job, even what kind of car I drive and my favorite fast food. Disappointingly for them, I am not a 68-year-old FBI agent.

We then talked about my career pathway, the education and training it has taken me to get there, and what they want to be when they grow up. They offered a diverse and impressive set of future careers for themselves.

It was an energizing way to spend a morning and a great reminder that as business and community leaders, we need to pay attention to the aspirations of our local students if we hope to keep them here after graduation.

We also need to seek opportunities to connect with and mentor local students to help make the connection between education and future success. The Chamber is offering just such an opportunity.

We are presenting Project TEACH in all fourth grade public elementary school classrooms on May 17. If you’d like volunteer information, please visit ManateeChamber.com/TEACH.

During my time with the Girl Scout troop, we talked about business etiquette and networking skills. They had an astute take on how to interact in professional/business settings.

While most have not yet been hired for their first job, the girls had important insights to share on how to network and build a positive reputation for themselves. Students in the Junior Leadership Manatee program had well-defined education and career goals.

Perhaps the only topic of discussion with these student leaders that gave me pause was that a number of them predicted they would not return to our area after finishing their post-secondary education and training — at least not immediately.

Some shared desires for a northern climate, others want a major metropolitan landscape, and still others weren’t sure they’d find the right career opportunity here.

If our goal is to ensure our region can keep its home-grown talent here, we need more opportunities to connect students with local industry. The Manatee Chamber is hosting a job shadow day with our business members and USF students in April and I am eager to see the fruits of those interactions.

Workforce development — in all of its scope and complexities — is a priority for the Manatee Chamber. Through partnerships with many organizations and institutions, we’re focusing on important strategies.

We seek to build more connections between business with education, develop a fertile pipeline for talent recruitment and retention, advocate for critical investment in our educational institutions and systems, and position our region for workforce excellence.

Top of mind for business leaders is how to we ensure local companies can find and keep the right talent to position their businesses for long-term success. One important partner is CareerSource Suncoast, which is bringing its State of Talent Conference to the Manatee-Sarasota region on May 2.

The lineup of speakers and workshops aims to equip employers with creative approaches to recruiting, developing and retaining talent. More information is available at stateoftalent.org.

Finally, a huge shout out to the 320 Manatee County students who competed in the recent annual Technology Student Association (TSA) State Conference. Manatee County brought home 99 trophies.

Students showed off their skills in science, technology, engineering and math through competitions in animatronics, biotechnology, video game design and web design, to name a few.

It’s the 14th straight year that Manatee County students earned more trophies and top 10 finishes than any other school district in Florida. Many of these students are headed to the national conference this summer.

On behalf of the 2,000 businesses of the Manatee Chamber — congratulations.

Jacki Dezelski is the president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and can be reached at JackiD@ManateeChamber.com or 941-748-3411.

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