Local school system leaders and representatives from some of Forsyth County’s largest businesses gathered Tuesday to discuss ways to better prepare graduates for the work world.
"We want to continue the quality school system you all have been a part of developing," said Superintendent Buster Evans. "But we also want to find out what things we need to be paying attention to so our kids can have more options."
Cindy Salloum, director of secondary education, said the meeting was one of several recommendations made by the PROPEL action groups.
PROPEL is a joint initiative of the school system and the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce. Its goal is to make Forsyth the nation’s leading school system for graduation rates.
Salloum asked participants Tuesday to "not hold back" in their suggestions.
"People are choosing to come here and we want them to continue choosing to come here," she said. "And we want our students to remain here or come back here after college in order to keep our community viable."
Salloum began the talk by asking business leaders to rank a list of career pathways they view as crucial over the next few years.
"What knowledge and skills will be most important for graduates as they enter the work force today and five years from now?" she asked.
Among the choices presented, many participants said careers in the biotechnology and diagnostic health care fields will be among the most important.
Others pointed to areas such as engineering and business.
The school system this year opened a STEM Academy at Forsyth Central High School. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
The academy is open to all high school students interested in expanded science and technology courses who meet certain academic requirements.
Salloum said the business community’s observations were affirmation the STEM Academy was a positive investment.
"This seems to be a good alignment, so that’s exciting for us," she said.
Also in the meeting, school leaders asked attendees about valuable work skills.
The responses included leadership, critical thinking, written communication skills, creativity and a strong work ethic, among others.
Business people were also asked what one thing they would change about the school district in order to help it develop students who make better employees.
Some said they find young employees are unable to handle "soft skills" such as making decisions for themselves without their parents’ input.
Others said young prospective employees often don’t seem to understand how to effectively communicate or even dress appropriately for job interviews.
Still others, some said, have unrealistic expectations about career paths.
Lynn Jackson, administrator of Northside Hospital-Forsyth, said many young hires seem to have "expectations of leading the organization" as soon as they’re hired.
"I think there needs to be more understanding that entry-level positions are equally important to organizations as managerial positions," she said. "They need to understand how you work your way through building skills in order to reach higher levels within an organization."
Other business people said more foreign language classes likely will be needed as the economy becomes more global.
"Most of our labor comes from foreign immigrants and we’re an international company with sites in China, Brazil and Mexico," said Johnny McBrayer of Tyson Foods.
School officials said feedback from the meeting would be used in future planning, and that more meetings with area business people will be held in the months ahead.
Business leaders seemed grateful for the chance to participate
"It’s so important for businesses to have a voice and be able to partner with the school system," said Terri Scott, a human resources manager with DataScan.