As part of his efforts to support local businesses and lure new employers, Pasco Economic Development Council president John Hagen is now working to develop one of the resources they need most:
A well-trained work force.
"When I first came here, I couldn't do a lot with that," said Hagen, who was busy monitoring the county's land development code overhaul, working on a plan to help smaller businesses expand as well as improving the council's marketing efforts when he came to Pasco at the start of 2010. "Now it's time to turn our attention to that and see if we can make some headway."
Hagen was recently named chairman of a steering committee for the Pasco school district's 14 career academies. The programs provide training to high school students in various career paths, such as health care, culinary arts, engineering, technology, auto repair or finance. The goal is to graduate students who already have job skills. Those who choose college can get additional training, while those who don't are able to go straight to work.
The steering committee represents a revival of the original group that formed about four years ago to help develop the programs at the career academies. The group included a mix of educators and business people. But interest waned among the private sector as the process went too slowly, said School Board member Steve Luikart, a former principal at Marchman Technical Institute and also a member of the newly reformed steering committee.
"When you ask business people to become involved, they need to know what their role is," Luikart said. "It's a very important role, but those academies have a developmental stage."
For example, the academies need to develop basic curriculum before they can talk about booking business leaders as guest speakers or sending students in as interns or graduates to fill jobs, Luikart explained.
As a result, the original committee quit meeting. However, the academies continued to form, and each has its own advisory board.
School Board members recently said the academies were being underused and expressed a desire to get things moving faster. However, school officials said this reconstituted committee was not a response to that.
Hagen hopes his involvement will encourage more groups, such as the Pasco-Hernando workforce board and the Nature Coast Consortium, a group of area colleges, to get involved.
The committee's goals include recruiting business leaders for academy advisory boards, creating enrichment opportunities for students, such as job shadowing, mentoring and internships; developing resources to accompany those used in the school district; and developing training in "best practices" for students entering the work force, such as the importance of being on time and dressing appropriately.
"We could start to have some impact in a bigger way than we are now," he said. "At the end of the day, all businesses need workers, and you've got to have the right kind of workers to fill their jobs."
And technical education, he said, is becoming increasingly necessary for any job.
He said at a previous job he once asked an auto dealer whether there were any workers at the company who didn't need to be computer savvy.
"He said, 'I suppose the janitor …' then he said 'all work orders come out of the computer.' That just gives you an idea how computers and technology is really permeating the work force," Hagen said. "There's an expectation that all workers have some level of technical proficiency now."