“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question many adults enjoy asking young people. I likely first heard it around age 8, and my answer then probably involved a uniform — fireman, policeman, pilot. Over time, my answer evolved into being a doctor and eventually a lawyer.
Instead, I’m writing this from an office in Immokalee, in the heart of Florida’s tomato growing region, where I work in agriculture. Who knew?
The truth is that few of us know what we want to be when we’re still teenagers. Many stumble into careers based on what’s available or the influence of a parent or mentor.
With the world changing faster than ever, a new, more structured approach is needed. The Florida Council of 100 is taking a deep dive into this question, evaluating the options available to our youth and how those options line up with the needs of the new Florida economy.
Vital to our future will be the skills taught through technical education. The Council of 100 applauds Gov. Ron DeSantis on his bold new initiative to raise the profile of long-neglected career and technical education in Florida. As the governor noted in an executive order last week, Florida’s economy will require a wide range of skills — many of which don’t require a college degree.
As fellow Council of 100 member Ron Wanek, founder and chairman of Ashley Furniture, has pointed out, we need a “rebirth” of K-12 education to develop workers for the next generation of skills and jobs. “The U.S.,” he has pointed out, “needs to explain to students the economics of advanced manufacturing, the soft skill sets needed for advanced manufacturing and the dignity of working in industry.”
This is not an easy undertaking. The Council’s recent Project Sunrise report on Florida’s future economic competitiveness shows that our state has a monthly gap of 30,000 “middle skill” jobs — good, reputable positions that go unfilled. From this report, the council felt it important enough to embark on a new project last summer studying ways to enhance career and technical education in Florida.
As former Council of 100 Chair Rhea Law often reminds me, “We continue to tell young people that a four-year education is the only path to success. That fallacy is hindering some of our best and brightest from finding joy in being a machinist, farmer, medical technician, or builder.”
Like other careers, these require special training at the high school or technical college level. The Council of 100’s review, paired with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ evident commitment to preparing Florida’s workforce for the future, will help provide better opportunities for all.
It’s clear the governor and our legislative leaders recognize that it’s time we give proper respect to all working people, and to help our youth understand the value of all options available to them. Our education system should align with the demands of both our state’s traditional economic foundations and the new opportunities emerging almost daily.
Nothing less than Florida’s future depends on it.
Kent Shoemaker is CEO of Lipman Produce, a leading producer of Florida tomatoes. He serves as chair of the Council of 100’s Talent Implementation Team for Project Sunrise.