The Focus of the 2017 Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce's Education Breakfast was "Making Employees, Entrepreneur, Entertainers." Guests heard from current and former students about how their education in Polk County prepared them for their current college careers. They also heard from Mark Hutek, Assistant Superintendent of Career, Technical, Adult and Multiple Pathways, regarding the need to prepare students for the workforce, show them a pathway to career, retain the students we are investing in, but also to provide the soft skills employers are looking for in their new hires. Phoebe O’Neill, a senior at All Saints Academy, spoke about giving back to the community through tutoring at the Winter Haven Public Education Partnership tutoring center. The overall theme of the morning - while we have our challenges, there are many positive things to celebrate.
What are employers looking for in their new employees?
The event opened with some background information based on a survey that was conducted by Chamber's education committee. Polk State student Allan Hall reviewed the results cross a wide range of industries and from both large and small employers:
When asked “Are you currently looking for employees”:
So when looking “Where do they look to find these new recruits?”
Thank you to our event sponsors:
Showing a Pathway to Employment
Mark Hutek, Assistant Superintendent of Career, Technical, Adult and Multiple Pathways, discussed the huge need to grow our workforce and show students the career pathways, whether that is college, trades or other mechanisms to gainful employment. We need to reap the rewards of the efforts put into educating our kids in Polk County and retain them here or have the job opportunities to bring them back after college to support this community.
He also focused on the fact that we can't just do this at the high school level. Getting into the middle school and even the elementary schools to promote pathways to career is important. And perhaps most important is to ensure that we are developing students to become good employees. Teach the soft skills like hard work ethic, reliability, communication skills and accountability.
Mark also mentioned a program they hope to launch with teachers that would provide externships during the summers for teachers to embed in the industry's workforce of which they teach to ensure they information they are teaching is relevant to the needs to the workforce as it exists today.
Paying It Forward
All Saints Academy Senior Pheobe O'Neill spoke to the importance of giving back to mold the next generation, as she does through her work at the Winter Haven Public Education Partnership Tutoring Center.
The PEP Education Center in Florence Villa, provides afterschool homework support, tutoring, and enrichment activities for students in grades one through five, is blessed with some incredible high school volunteers, but Phoebe, has gone above and beyond.
Two years ago, Phoebe organized her art club to provide monthly sidewalk chalk art instruction at the center but when she saw the need for tutors, she stayed on. When she realized very few students had books at home, she organized a book drive and provided well over 1000 books that the students could take home and keep. When she noticed that the free afterschool snack was high in sugar and rarely fresh, and found out that many students just ate rice for dinner, she raised almost $10,000 to provide a fresh, healthy snack along with training about nutrition and a healthy diet. Phoebe is currently working on a fundraiser to make sure the Healthy Snack Program continues next year when she is off at NYU.
Through her volunteerism she helps students develop a love of reading, math and creativity. She shared numerous comments from her students. We can hope that after she goes to NYU she returns back to Polk County to continue her work!
Technically Advanced - Leadership Ready
Two former students from the Winter Haven High School Technobotics Academy spoke about the importance the program has had on their lives. Kristianna Nicolai is a student at UCF and is the only female on the robotics competition team at the school. She is studying mechanical engineering and has found that the "head start" she received through the technobotics academy has made her one of the best on the collegiate team. Through her time in the program she learned about seizing opportunities, working with teams and being a leader. She also graduated with a certification in Computer Assisted Design when she left WHHS, and that has also given her a competitive edge.
Allan Hall, a student at Polk State College shared similar sentiments about going through WHHS Technobotics Academy. He is currently studying supply chain management at Polk State and he is a part of the LEGOLAND Florida Resort internship program where he is being mentored by the Senior Resort Warehouse and Logistics Manager at the resort.
He explained that while the purpose of the technobotics academy was to introduce them to robots and how to make them work, the competition team element taught them value lessons that will make them better employees and entrepreneurs. Hard work, perseverance, learning from others, failure is going to happen, public speaking skills and more.
Provost of Polk State College Winter Haven, Dr. Martha Santiago, offered the closing remarks, reminding the group to go forth and be ambassadors about the wonderful things going on with our schools and get involved in the school closest to your home or business.
Throughout the morning's programs, videos were show about some of the schools in Winter Haven. Check it out, and watch to the very end for some high energy. Thank you to the Winter Haven High School whose students directed, filmed and edited these videos, guided by our faculty member Pam Mizelle. Enjoy!
Also, thank you to The Ledger for coverage of the event. You can read their article here.
Here is a video presentation from the 2017 Education Breakfast.