Bridging the gap between school and workplace

The good news for students graduating from high school? There are plenty of great jobs out there just waiting to be filled. The bad news? Many employers feel that students aren’t graduating with the appropriate skills to move into those positions. The result? Many high-quality jobs sit open and employers are left scratching their heads on how to attract qualified candidates.

One Florida non-profit is hoping to change this outcome by creating a stronger connection between schools and businesses to Pinellas County educators and students meet with employees from Duke Energy as part of the Career Leadership Awareness students prepare for careers after high school -- and to help schools incorporate content into their curriculum that will help students succeed in the workplace.

“We don’t want to have a job/skills mismatch,” says Dr. Elaine Liftin, President and Executive Director for The Council for Educational Change. “So many students are graduating unaware of their options and the potential careers they can have. We’re serving as a vehicle to create an awareness of what is out there currently and get students focused on the future.”

That vehicle is the Career Leadership Awareness Forum. It’s a platform that connects the business community with the educational community through a series of sessions designed to engage educators, business leaders -- and students themselves. The Forum is currently working with Duke Energy and has done similar initiatives with healthcare organizations and hospitality companies in the past.

The partnership with Duke Energy began in January when a group of students, teachers. and principals from 12 Pinellas County schools met at Duke Energy’s Call Center in Clearwater to learn about job opportunities in the energy industry. Having buy-in from the principal is important to the success of these initiatives, but students also play a key role, Liftin says.

“We’re targeting that student in high school who doesn’t know what they don’t know,” she says. “This isn’t the old vocational concept. We’re showing them the opportunities that exist and telling them what they need to do to get there.”

Just knowing these things exist, Liftin says, can go a long way in keeping students motivated to finishing school. And in the case of Duke Energy, she says, students may not even realize there are other opportunities there than simply working on power lines.

“They go into the workplace and they hear about all the different types of jobs available to them,” she says. “They see the career ladder and the possibilities that can exist for them.”

After the initial session, employees from Duke Energy will do on-site school visits with students to answer questions about their jobs and the paths they took to get them. Students will then return to Duke Energy to do job shadowing to learn what it’s really like to work there. The forum concludes with a meeting on February 27 at the Pinellas County School Board’s administrative offices. During this final session, which is open to the public, teams of students will do presentations on what they’ve learned about Duke Energy and compete for prizes. And it doesn’t end there. Over the summer, Duke will provide paid internships for 150 students.

“We’re hoping this gets kids really excited about the opportunities that are out there for them,” Liftin says.

If your workplace is interested in participating in the Career Leadership Awareness Forum, email Dr. Elaine Liftin.

Read more articles by Jaymi Butler.

Jaymi Butler is a writer and editor who enjoys telling the stories of growth and innovation in the Tampa Bay Area, which she has called home since 2003. A former reporter for the Savannah Morning News, The State, and The Tampa Tribune, she has covered a variety of topics ranging from business to features to public health -- and she even got to sit in on an American Idol audition just feet away from Simon Cowell!