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Career Acceleration Program prepares students for workforce

Mark Parker

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This summer, 75 public and private businesses, non-profits and local government facilities are participating in the Career Acceleration Program. Photos provided.

Many students graduate high school lacking essential job skills and without realizing the variety of career pathways offered by local employers that are not typically associated with specific positions.

Through its Summer Career Acceleration Program (SCAP), the Pinellas Education Foundation (PEF), in partnership with Pinellas County Schools (PCS), is helping 216 incoming seniors at 17 county high schools prepare for post-graduation job opportunities. The program is now in its third year and readies students for the workforce by combining paid summer internships, career skills training and a financial literacy workshop.

PCS promotes SCAP to students throughout the school year, manages the program and helps PEF find local business partners. Dr. Stacy Baier, CEO of PEF, said the internships are much more than just sticking a kid at a reception desk or having them perform menial tasks.

“This is really about exposing students to the different departments within your business that help make your entire business run,” said Baier. “So that kids can get a little taste of finance, HR, communication, sales or customer service – whatever that business might entail.”

Baier said the school district and foundation’s commitment to preparing students for life after high school is unwavering, whether they plan on attending college, or technical programs, enlisting in the military or entering the workforce. While schools offer several academic programs to help students transition to the next chapter in life, Baier believes there is no substitute for on-the-job experience to help inform career decisions.

This summer, 75 public and private businesses and nonprofits, like the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), are participating in the six-week program, which concludes July 15. Once an intern is selected, they are matched with employers through an in-depth interview process and work 20 hours per week while receiving a paid stipend.

Although the internships could reinforce a student’s interest in a career field, Baier said equally important to post-graduation success is helping them discover when a position is not the best fit.

Stacy Baier, CEO of the Pinellas Education Foundation, credited Bank of America for its generous support of the program.

Bank of America (BOA) is a key supporter of SCAP, awarding PEF $90,000 to help low-income and minority students build workforce skills. Baier said that BOA and the foundation recognize businesses looking to hire recent graduates struggle with students unaware of the variety of career paths available within companies.

Using area hospitals as an example, Baier said kids might not think they are a good fit to work in medical settings because they do not like the sight of blood. However, SCAP could help them realize the number of other career pathways – like public relations or human resources – outside of frontline health care workers.

Further illustrating her point, Baier said she overheard an executive with Raymond James state that they have more IT workers in their Carillon office than they do in finance.

“It’s about exposing kids to the variety of careers that might exist in an industry that they’re interested in, but maybe they don’t have a proclivity for going towards the job that seems the most obvious,” said Baier. “And I think companies like this type of internship because they struggle with getting that message out to kids too.

“There’s so much more you can do at Duke Energy than be a linesman or an engineer.”

In addition to bolstering job skills and career awareness, the first four days of the program provide students with job preparation workshops, lessons in personal finance, and resume building and interviewing skills.

For many students, Baier said the internship is the first time receiving a paycheck, and program leaders teach them how to open a bank account.

She added that many students lack soft skills like showing up to work on time and dressing appropriately for the job. The program is now in its third year, and Baier said organizers realized the need for front-end financial literacy and soft skill education after the first class.

“There is a significant population of students who are participating who are coming from underserved communities,” noted Baier. “Because our funders have an interest, and the foundation has a commitment, to helping students who don’t have the same exposure get broader exposure.”

One of the program’s partners, Pinellas County’s South Cross Bayou Water Reclamation Facility, recently hired Seminole High graduate Merric Grego, who completed an internship at the plant last summer.

Baier said that while the program’s intention is not to find long-term employment for the students, witnessing those outcomes is a testament to the impact of providing kids with the knowledge and awareness of potential career pathways throughout the community.

“And so, it is very gratifying in the end to see an employer-intern match developed into something more than what was originally intended,” said Baier.

“Hopefully, students can make more informed decisions about what they want to do after high school, whether that is going straight into a job or picking a college major – they go into it with a more informed perspective of possibility.”

For more information, visit the website here.

 

 

 

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