FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Keeping students in touch with the business world around them is crucial and one of the primary reasons for Project Next.
Forsyth County School College and Career Development Director Valery L. Lowe said the inaugural Project Next event Aug. 1 was a way to educate teachers, counselors and administrators about the type of businesses and industries students can work for after they graduate high school.
The event was held by Forsyth Central High School educators. Principal Mitch Young said the school has made a concerted effort to shift its focus from knowledge for the sake of knowledge, to being skills focused.
“Project Next is the next extension of what we’ve been working on,” Young said. “We thought the next phase is to get out into our community and get into the businesses that so many of us don’t even realize are in Forsyth County. We want to connect the dots of the skills we talk about and the skills you need in the workforce and bridge the gap.”
The event was inspired after district leaders traveled to Nashville where they toured the city schools to see how their academies line up with what Young said his school is doing.
“We were affirmed we are doing the right work,” Young said. “We want students to know college is not for everybody and they can still go out and be a productive part of society.”
The district, through its local initiative Workforce Forsyth, is committed to building an ongoing partnership with local businesses and industries.
“This is to prepare students in our community with the skills necessary to meet world class standards, successfully continue lifelong learning and enter the marketplace as productive citizens,” Lowe said. “Because of this, it is integral that our educators are in touch with what is happening in our community in regards to employment opportunities, labor statistics and projected areas of growth in Forsyth County.”
To do that, the entire staff of Forsyth Central toured multiple local businesses to learn what they need to teach their students to potentially work there some day. Employers included Forsyth Central 911, Northside Hospital Forsyth, Hansgrohe, Scientific Games, S&S Technical, Convergent Media and Lou Sobh Honda.
A panel made up of representatives from each of the businesses involved in Project Next spoke about why the students should look into working for the companies, what advice they’d give to the educators and things schools can do to prepare students for employment.
Sharon Ogburn, managing director for S&S Technical, told educators her company looks for people who can handle a variety of disciplines, including mechanical engineering, electrical design, welding and document control.
“Many of our employees are not necessarily from this industry,” Ogburn said. “They just have to be able to think well and build a relationship which is a skill in its own. It’s all about communication.”
She said it is important students learn skills like realistic expectations, critical thinking, proactive approach and accountability.
“We need people to think outside the box, otherwise we wouldn’t stay in business,” Ogburn said. “What you guys teach now builds those skills for when they work in a similar environment.”
Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO James McCoy said people are often surprised to learn there is an enormous concentration of international business in the community.
“They are increasingly demanding a much broader skill set and diversity of work,” McCoy said. “We have a very large and growing overall business base in the community. People think about Forsyth County as the place to live and then leave for work. But last year we had an 11 percent growth of businesses.”
The county is seventh in the country for the second year in a row for incoming investment, he said.
“Almost all of that is driven by commercial investment in this community,” McCoy said. “The days of us thinking about students going on almost universally to somewhere else to do something, are over. The idea of there being real opportunity and a future here is a reality.”