When Future Ready Collier was formalized, it was as a strategic offshoot of the Greater Naples Chamber’s Opportunity Naples initiative. This effort identified a need to assign resources to support students throughout their primary education. In the intervening years, the Chamber has retained a meaningful role in Future Ready Collier. Specifically, helping to steer conversations about work-based learning and facilitating transitions from school to career. Meaningfully, the Chamber’s board approved establishing a full-time staff position dedicated to exploring relevant partnerships with employers, and upholding schools in their efforts to deliver new meaningful work-related experiences for students.
Making the Case for Work-Based Learning
Among Future Ready Collier’s objectives is better tracking transitions from high school into post-secondary training and ultimately into the workforce. To engage businesses requires conveying the value proposition that a robust educational network stimulates a thriving community. A pool of qualified employees begins in schools, and curricula that emphasize foundational skills and socioemotional learning alongside academics.
There are challenges on both sides of the equation. Increasing student participation requires a sensitivity to barriers they face, such as transportation and access to work-appropriate attire. Students may also be disinclined to seek an internship if they already have a part-time paying job. Alex Breault, Director of Work-Based Learning, points out that distinctions between the two scenarios are ideally minimal, and a net positive for students, who still receive a wage from their employers while additionally benefitting from hands-on guidance, exposure to new professional and interpersonal situations, and mentorship. Alternatively, employers may be reticent if they’re unfamiliar with the scope of work-based learning and the tangible utility derived.
Building an Economic Ecosystem
With each, the Chamber is endeavoring to align understanding and capacity. Chamber CEO Michael Dalby describes it as “trying to build an economic ecosystem, to create a healthy, sustainable community. We are working to build a culture of engagement.” To that end, the Chamber is conducting targeted outreach to better understand what employers feel they need to effectively offer productive work-based internships, and similarly trying to ensure that students have more information about available opportunities. Amanda Beights, Vice President of the Leadership Collier Foundation, defines their role as helping to “close the gap between business and education.”
Taking Work-Based Learning Virtual
Of course, COVID-19 changed the conversation. From an expectation of successful in-person summer internships, the Chamber is now investigating how to implement virtual work-based learning. Breault shares, “As we move forward, virtual experiences will continue to be on the rise until we have full confidence in our community’s safety.” This includes helping employers develop virtual opportunities, and sharing examples of potential projects. Virtual work-based learning will likely extend beyond the summer, too. The Chamber and their business and education partners are embracing creativity and flexibility to meet current needs.
In it Together
A visit to the Chamber’s website or listening to their leadership present and it’s evident they embody this mission. References to the importance of kindergarten readiness through to work-based learning opportunities are frequent. Determining how best to intersect businesses with education providers is essential. While their ultimate goals are overlapping, their day-to-day priorities are divergent and require unique insights.
Moreover, Dalby and team express gratitude for Future Ready Collier, and for Champions For Learning as the backbone organization. Of great benefit, Dalby notes, “We’re all in the room, speaking the same language.” As the collective evolves and matures, greater clarity of purpose will ensue. Resulting action will generate results first for Collier County children, and subsequently but no less critically our entire community.