New computer program points Pinellas students to careers that fit

The Pinellas school district and two education groups unveil a new test called Future Plans.
Gibbs High students, from left, Sheldon Steele, 16, Jermaine Robinson, 17, and Ian Moss, 17, use the Future Plans lab. The online test for juniors and seniors analyzes students' personality, aptitude and values before presenting them with a list of high-demand careers that fit their profile. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |   Times
Gibbs High students, from left, Sheldon Steele, 16, Jermaine Robinson, 17, and Ian Moss, 17, use the Future Plans lab. The online test for juniors and seniors analyzes students' personality, aptitude and values before presenting them with a list of high-demand careers that fit their profile.JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times
Published October 18 2014
Updated October 18 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Before he took the career test, Gibbs High School junior Ian Moss was certain of three things: he liked math, sports and playing guitar.

Parlaying those skills into a career, however, was the tough part, especially as big decisions about his future are looming.

"I'm standing at a road that forks three ways," he said.

So when his guidance counselor asked Moss if he'd like to preview the district's new career development test (and get some free food), he happily agreed.

Moss came away with a list of three careers — physical therapist, athletic trainer or firefighter — and a personalized plan for how to achieve each.

He sat with classmates Thursday in the Gibbs atrium as the Pinellas Education Foundation, in partnership with Pinellas County Schools and the Helios Education Foundation, unveiled the $2.5 million program, called Future Plans.

It's an online, interactive test for juniors and seniors that analyzes students' personality, aptitude and values before presenting them with a list of high-demand careers that fit their profile.

Education foundation President Terry Boehm called Future Plans the third leg of the organization's Stavros Institute, which for years has housed Enterprise Village for elementary school kids and Finance Park for those in middle school.

This program, Boehm says, encourages the more mature high school students to take ownership in their future.

"It's time to grow up," he said of the program's tone. "This is your deal now, you own it."

And unlike other tests that tell students what they lack, "this one is helping kids try to recognize what their talents are," he said.

The program has 11 installments and takes about three hours to complete. Digital characters, or avatars, offer motivational compliments along the way.

"That avatar is always sort of slipping something to you," Boehm said.

Once completed, Future Plans gives students a list of careers that fit their personality, interests and are in most demand throughout the job market. Students who may be interested in archaeology, for example, may have to scroll for awhile before they find that particular career. The goal, the foundation's associate director Tamra Eitel said, is to encourage students to chase their dreams, but realistically.

"Fifty-two percent of college grads are unemployed or underemployed," she said.

Students can filter their results so demand isn't a factor.

The program also sends automated reminders to students who haven't completed the modules and produces checklists for tasks such as taking the SAT or applying for scholarships. And the results are catalogued, so guidance counselors can use the database as a tool to target kids and share information about college visits or workshop opportunities.

At the unveiling, Helios president and CEO Paul Luna presented a check for $1.25 million to the education foundation to fund the program, which has a five-year budget of $2.5 million.

"People like to hear what you have to say and your perspective," he said, "but they really like when you bring a big check."

That drew a laugh from education advocates and other donors in the crowd. The foundation already has raised $2.2 million for the project.

Boehm predicted the program will be copied throughout the state and the nation. "This is a pretty hot project," he said.

Pinellas school superintendent Mike Grego said he hopes Future Plans will lead to discussions between parents and students.

"There's so much information out there," he said, "and what Future Plans does is help connect the dots."

Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8913. Follow her @kemettler.

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