Over the last year, you have probably heard and read a lot from the Chamber & Economic Partnership (CEP) on the topic of workforce and talent development or NEXT works as we call it. When the CEP Board adopted our new 5-year strategic plan, Moving Forward-Phase II, in late 2016 it highlighted Talent Development as one of the two signature new project areas for the CEP. This new emphasis has really come into focus over the last couple of years.  I want to discuss why this is such an important emphasis for the CEP and then explain what we are doing.

As communities across the country have been rebounding and growing post-Great Recession, one of the areas that it became apparent had suffered was talent development. As companies, communities, and schools struggled to just remain viable, the importance of investing in workforce often went to the side. When this is coupled with the pending retirement of millions of Baby Boomers, a talent deficit becomes a clear reality. It is our belief that talent development is incredibly significant to the continued growth of our community. In fact, we believe the communities which figure out talent, will be the communities that win the next half century.

I hear every day from our businesses on the challenges of finding skilled workers. These are viable, living wage careers that have been overlooked for too long. I think we are realizing that the emphasis on everyone attending University not only robbed our community of desperately needed skills but robbed students of the opportunity to truly purse their passions. We are changing that thanks to these partnerships.

Over the last three years, the CEP and the business community have been partnering closely with the school system to reimagine and reinvigorate Career/Technical Education. Instead of the traditional model of schools trying to reach out to businesses, we have flipped that conversation to businesses engaging with the schools. Our goal is not to tell teachers how to teach but to provide them with the resources and opportunities to help make learning relevant for their students.

Today, we have more than doubled the number of students in Career/Technical programs. Our efforts were recently lauded as a national model of innovation. The new Career Choice Academies are setting kids up for success by teaching in-demand skills and providing pathways for both work and continuing education. We are partnering with both the College of Central Florida and Marion Technical College to ensure we have a seamless pathway to post-secondary learning in all of these areas.

We are engaging with our schools and teachers daily.  Dean Blinkhorn serves as our Director of Talent Development. As a former teacher and business owner, he brings credibility to our efforts. Recently, Dean was named an Education and Talent Fellow by the Association for Chamber of Commerce Executives, our national association. This fellowship is very competitive and we are thrilled and honored that Dean was one of 10 selected from around the nation to complete this program.

The mission of the CEP is to be the catalyst for a prosperous community and this focus on Talent Development is key to that prosperity. By partnering together, we can keep this community Moving Forward!

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