Sarasota, Florida is known for making magic happen, after all, it’s the home of the Ringling Brothers Circus and world famous tight rope artist Nik Wallenda. So it is not surprising that the Sarasota Chamber of Commerce and CareerSource Suncoast invited over 850 students to the Sarasota Fairgrounds to make a little magic of their own. The second annual, State of Jobs Conference took place on a sweltering southwest Florida day, just a few weeks after the region was damaged by Hurricane Irma. With the precision of a three-ring leader, Chris Laney, CareerSource, Suncoast Director of Education and his team provided an action packed event that included career readiness inspired keynotes and tracks in healthcare, engineering and computer science, hospitality, entrepreneurship, business, sports, entertainment management, law enforcement, and military service careers. Leaders from a wide variety of industries discussed the training and qualifications required in their field.  Students also met with college advisors to investigate local college options.

The Florida Consortium of Metropolitan Research Universities, through a grant from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, is  working on improving college to career pathways for students in STEM fields of study. Early career awareness is an important thought topic for the faculty working on this project. Michael Preston, Ed.D., Executive Director of the Florida Consortium Executive Director was invited as a special guest to observe and interact with participants in order to gain data and information. This information may provide another model for career track success.

The State of Jobs Conference was designed to help attendees figure out what they want to be when they grow up.  This is often an evolving idea for many students, however by the second half of high school researchers believe more students have a good idea what careers interest them (Thurman, 2015). They just don’t have the foundational knowledge needed to pursue that degree or explore alternative pathways into the workforce. Most students dream of becoming a professional athlete, astronaut, firefighter, actor/actress, or singer. By their teen years they tend to focus those dreams on more academically focused pursuits such as doctor, lawyer, engineer, computer programmer, or a writer (NSHSS Scholar Millennial Career Survey, 2015).

“I am at the conference because I really want to learn more about how I can get into a career using computers. I built my first computer when I was 13 and now I want to design them” said one student from a local Sarasota High School. Another from Bradenton added, “I think it’s cool these events take place because I am able to learn more about what career is best for me and how much money I can make.” However, the skills learned during the conference run deeper. Blair Broomstun, VP of Game On Nation stressed the importance of soft skills, like being able to hold a conversation and making good eye contact.

The evening concluded with a dinner for the parents. Parents learned  ways to help their children start  and stay on a career track. They were encouraged to make connections with other parents and to form information networks. And this is critical. CareerSource Florida surveyed attendees after the 2016 State of Jobs Conference. Students were asked who influenced them the most in selecting a college: Respondents chose family 32.7% of the time, friends 17.5%, teacher 14%, and personal research 28.4%. It’s a team effort but if parents are engaged then career planning becomes a priority.

This valuable experience cost about $40 per student and the return on investment could be priceless. This day-long conference brought together the workforce of tomorrow and their top influencers into one space and that is often where the magic happens.


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