Florida's Future Depends on Today's Learners

Author: Tony Carvajal, Executive Vice President, Florida Chamber Foundation

May 24, 2016

That was the prevailing theme when more than 250 business, workforce, education, philanthropy and community leaders gathered together in June in Orlando for the Florida Chamber Foundation's 2016 Learners to Earners Education Summit.

The Summit, sponsored by Helios Education Foundation, focused on putting the long-term ahead of the short-term and examined the disruptions and opportunities in Florida’s education system and how the workplace is  expected to change by the year 2030.

Florida’s foremost thought leaders on education spoke about a variety of topics ranging from the greatest challenges facing Florida’s future and strategies for strengthening career pathways to inspiring innovation and narrowing gaps to ensure prosperity for all. Charles Hokanson, Senior Vice President and Chief Policy Officer of Helios Education Foundation and Florida Chamber Foundation Trustee, led a discussion on focusing on learner outcomes and measurable success.

One key takeaway from the event was that talent is the new economic development incentive. It is what drives Florida’s economy and brings high-paying jobs to our communities. It’s what will allow our children to stay and raise their families here.

Florida has many desirable amenities - from hundreds of miles of pristine beaches to great weather all year round - to a competitive business climate. However, when companies look at where to grow or relocate their businesses, their first question is about access to a quality workforce.

Our students are no longer just competing with the kids next door. They are growing up in a world where talent can and will come from every corner of the world. How do we prepare today’s students to be globally competitive tomorrow?

Today’s kindergartner will graduate with the class of 2030, which means Florida’s future is the third grader who is getting the extra help to become a strong reader, the high school student who graduates on time ready for college and career, the college student who discovers the exciting places their degree will take them. And, our future is the worker who completes training for a new career in a field that didn’t even exist 10 years ago.

But learning begins way before kindergarten, it actually starts at birth. Research shows that 85 percent of brain growth occurs by age 3 and children coming from low-income households hear 30 million less words than their more affluent peers by that age, which means that inequality and generational poverty also begin at an early age.

At the Florida Chamber, we are often asked why we are so interested in education. While we have a vested interest in tomorrow’s workforce, we also recognize the impact education has on prosperity and economic development.

Prosperity relies on the power of free enterprise. It relies on an abundance of opportunities. And, most importantly, it relies on business and civic leaders to focus on long-term solutions for our communities’ greatest challenges.

Leaders like Harris Rosen, President and CEO of Rosen Hotels & Resorts, who in a rare speaking appearance at the Summit, shared his story about growing up in an immigrant family in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan and how he managed to rise to success only because of the value his parents placed on education.

Rosen also highlighted his programs to increase prosperity and economic mobility in Orlando's Tangelo Park and Parramore communities and issued a call to action for other businesses to give back to their own cities through educational investment and involvement. Businesses like Rosen’s are committed to education because they see the future. They understand how hard it is to adapt and want to ensure kids are ready for workplace demands.

Too often attention is focused on the battles related to standards and testing, but there is a direct correlation. Ask a parent or teacher if they want their child to be left behind in the next economy and the quick response is always "no." The transition is hard - especially in education as so many use the lens of their own experience.

Florida is moving in the right direction and there are several successes we can celebrate:

  • Florida is second and third in the nation for AP participation and performance rates.
  • Florida’s graduation rate is at a 12-year high.
  • Our state colleges are consistently recognized nationally for their outstanding achievements.
  • Florida’s state universities are leading the world’s most innovative research projects and studies.
  • More than a half a million unemployed Floridians who completed services with our state’s workforce system found new jobs, earning $11,000 more on average than their previous jobs.

These are just a few of the proof points that we are on the right path, but the journey is far from over, there is still much to be done to close the talent gap in our education system and ensure that Florida’s students are globally competitive.

One thing I know for certain is that the world of 2030 will look very different than today. In order for Florida’s job creators and employers to keep our education system moving towards world leader status, we must focus on keeping Florida on the path toward continuous improvement and strong accountability, and accelerating education performance to produce talented high wage earners who drive economic growth, prosperity and sustainable communities.

We hope that you will join us in ensuring that Florida is best place to live, work, play and learn.

Category: Postsecondary Success

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