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$300K career skills program sets out to triple next year's impact

A career training program partnership between CareerSource Suncoast and State College of Florida seeks to expand its reach.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. August 24, 2023
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Students interviewed with employers during a career fair before being assigned to a six-week internship.
Students interviewed with employers during a career fair before being assigned to a six-week internship.
Courtesy photo
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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A $300,000 skills training and summer internship program that graduated 78 middle and high school students this year has ambitious goals for next year. 

The four-part program, a partnership between the State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota’s 26 West Center and CareerSource Suncoast, began May 30. The students came from 28 schools across the Bradenton and Sarasota area. CareerSource is a state-designated provider of workforce services based in Sarasota. 

The goal is to triple the number of students that graduated next year — putting next year’s numbers around 234. 

Part of the challenge of getting there is easing eligibility requirements. This year, the program received funding from a welfare transition program run by the state of Florida. That funding requires certain criteria that are income based. For example, the student must come from a low income household or have a family member who is receiving some sort of state-offered benefit like food stamps. 

Joshua Matlock, president and CEO of CareerSource Suncoast, says they’re looking for other funding sources for next year so they can lift some eligibility requirements. 

“So we can broaden the scope of who we can serve,” he says, adding that will help reach next year’s graduation goal.

Dubbed the Power of You, the program featured an interactive one-day workshop; a career fair with 18 local employers; six-week internships; and weekly online assignments that received feedback from instructors. The one-day workshop covered elevator pitches, resumes, interview skills and business etiquette for students to prepare for the career fair. 

The State College of Florida's 26 West Center provided students the tools they needed to have successful interviews during the program's career fair.
Photo by Lori Sax

CareerSource reached out to several employers it worked with before. “It takes their time,” Matlock says. “Even though they’re not paying (the students), they’re spending a lot of time developing these kids. So it’s not just like you’re getting free labor. They’re providing a lot of training and guidance.”

The students, instead, receive paychecks from CareerSource, which happened to be one of the biggest learning points of the program. 

“They learned that you don’t get all the money that you think you will get in a paycheck,” Matlock says. 

The takeaways are a big part of the success of this program, Matlock says. The students provided feedback through post-evaluations to capture what was learned. Kim Richmond, director of the 26 West Entrepreneurship Center at SCF, says students were quoted saying they learned personal accountability and communication skills. 

“When we can get teenagers to say that, we know that they’re learning by doing,” Richmond says. 

Todd Fritch, executive vice president and provost at SCF, says students noted understanding the difference between gross and net pay, as well as the importance of communication with coworkers. 

“The survey that (SCF gives) the kids afterwards gives us a great idea of where they ended up in terms of what they got out of the program,” Matlock says. 

Students show off their graduation certificates they earned at the ceremony in July.
Courtesy photo

This is the second year CareerSource hosted this program under Matlock’s leadership. SCF became a partner this year. Before, the program was just a work experience where students were matched with employers. But with SCF involved, the students received personal branding training, career advancement and discovery curriculum and the experience of being on a campus. “It exceeded expectations,” Matlock says. 

The graduation ceremony held July 27 brought in 175 parents, employers and program partners to the 26 West Center. Named for its address at 5840 26th St. W. in Bradenton, the 26 West Center is a 40,000-square-foot space designed for entrepreneurs and small businesses. The $4.4 million project hosts seven business services, including a business growth lab; student incubator; entrepreneurship academy; personal branding lab; digital collective; coding academy; and creative suite. 

One of SCF’s main goals of the program is to align students with their career interests so they enjoy working and consider SCF as part of their future.  

“Getting them on board with what they like doing and then figuring out what (they) need to study in order to do that and where (they can) go to do that, like State College of Florida,” Fritch says, “is one of the big outcomes for us."


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