Employers urged to partner with schools to improve workforce

By Marcia Heroux Pounds Sun Sentinel


Kelly Smallridge tells her employees “first you’re a parent and second you’re an employee.”

Her point: Employers need to do a better job of supporting parents, which she said would lead to more dedicated employees and an improved future workforce.

Smallridge, the mother of three sons and the head Palm Beach County’s Business Development Board, was among leaders who gathered Thursday to talk about “Preventing Florida’s Brain Drain,” part of the county’s effort to improve education and build a stronger workforce.

Other panelists stressed the importance of early childhood education, customizing education to different student levels and getting parents and children accustomed to lifelong learning for the jobs of the future, which won’t look like today’s.

New Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Robert Avossa led off the discussion with the shortage in bus drivers that played a part, along with new technology, in the “debacle” during the county’s first week of school. Many buses were late or failed to show up to pick up students during the first week of school.

He said the situation is just one example where the county will “drive for improvement.”

Avossa, who spent some of his childhood in Vero Beach and was hired from the Altanta school district, said he will strive to create a system that is more nimble and responsive to students, teachers and parents.

“We need business partners, community members and others to say ‘let’s do what’s right for kids,'” he said.

Smallridge said the Business Development Board plans two events next year to bring together educators and business: an education summit, so educators can meet business leaders, and a career showcase focusing on the industries that are increasing jobs in Palm Beach County and how educators and students can prepare for them.

Florida Chamber Executive Vice President Tony Carvajal said half of today’s jobs won’t exist in 2030. “We have to make sure our schools and communities are ready to compete,” he said.

David Lawrence Jr., former publisher of The Miami Herald and now chair of the Children’s Movement of Florida, said the journey to better education begins with early learning. In Florida, “43 percent of third-graders can’t read at a minimally proficient level,” he said.

That has ramifications for the workforce, he said. “It’s an outrage and a scandal that we have an extraordinary number of young people who are in kindergarten or first grade who have already made up their minds they can’t do the work.”

The focus should not always be on a college degree, the panelists said. Technical certifications also prepare students more immediately for the workforce.

“The majority of jobs that this state is going to need do not require a bachelor’s degree,” said Carvajal of the Florida Chamber.

But all jobs will need some kind of advance training, and employers need to remain competitive, he said.

“Someone is waking up overseas and saying I want to get as well-trained and educated as I can. When we say students don’t need a college degree, we lose the race,” Carvajal said

Florida Chamber Co-Hosts Childhood Education

The Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Chamber Foundation believe that a quality education is the best way to ensure Florida students can compete in a global economy. Securing Florida’s future over the long-term means making the right policy choices in the short-term. To help in this arena, the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Business Alliance for Early Learning identifies and tackles the challenges that will help tomorrow’s leaders succeed.

Early childhood education, particularly between ages 0-8, is essential for a child’s development of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills. Preparing our youngest students to learn provides a foundation for future success and helps them develop important skills such as self-discipline, persistence and cooperation–skills that are essential to their future success and a quality workforce.

In support of that initiative, the Florida Chamber co-hosted the Children’s Week Business Leaders Luncheon this month, along with The Children’s Movement of Florida, The Florida Council of 100, Florida TaxWatch, United Way and the Children’s Forum, to engage business leaders, legislators and community partners in a discussion about the importance of early learning.

Mike Fernandez, CEO of MBF Healthcare Partners and Founder of the Miami-Dade Early Childhood Initiative Foundation, was featured as our keynote speaker. Considered by many to be one of Florida’s most successful entrepreneurs, Fernandez spoke about investment in early childhood education and giving every child a chance for success. The luncheon concluded with an overview of the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Business Alliance for Early Learning and what the statewide network of business leaders is doing to affect education policy reform and investments in early childhood programs.
Consider these facts:

  • Eighty-five percent of brain growth occurs by the time a child is three.
  • Participants in early childhood learning programs are 80 percent more likely to attend college.
  • High quality early childhood education programs increase employability by 23 percent
  • Adults who attended early childhood programs earn 33 percent higher average salaries.

In a letter written after the luncheon, David Lawrence, Jr., Chair of The Children’s Movement of Florida and one of Florida’s most respected early learning advocates, said, “For years children’s advocates have talked about the importance of the business community coming to the table on early learning. This week, the business community was fully seated at that table.”

The Florida Chamber Foundation encourages business leaders like you to join our Business Alliance for Early Learning. Businesses from around the state are tackling the Florida Chamber Foundation’s essential issues impacting Florida’s future talent pipeline. Join us as we engage businesses, families and community leaders in securing Florida’s future through creating America’s most aligned, quality early education initiative.


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