Ask an eighth grader, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Sit back and listen.

Maybe they have a laser-focused plan — “A microbiologist”.
Maybe they narrowed down to a field — “Something in sports medicine’.
And maybe they need more guidance, or influence, than that at age 13 or 14.

It’s the perfect time to reach them, and Junior Achievement of Central Florida is here to help. It certainly was Thursday at Osceola Heritage Park for some 3,800 eighth-graders.

They were bussed to the event to learn about high-demand jobs that will be needed the future — from skilled trades to highly technical careers whose job requirements don’t even exist yet.

Give it up to those involved for some great product placement. The School District of Osceola County brought out its newly-retooled STEM bus to highlight science. NeoCity is literally across the street from where JA Inspire was held, and will be bringing in hundreds of engineers and scientists to create the tiny sensor technology that will be born there.

Frank Korosec, BRIDG’s vice president of program management, said this is the right kind of event at the right age to capture a student’s attention. “My message is, you’ve got to do your math homework. It’s not that hard,” he said. “We find those kids that had no idea the work we do is being done right across the street.

“These kids can pick a good path and begin preparation for what they see today. We want to partner with Junior Achievement to help kids see what they can do one day.”

The students visited with some 50 organizations at 60 career stations run by educators and corporations. Some demonstrations were more, um, “visually brilliant”, like the Sheriff’s Office all-terrain unit and Kissimmee Utility Authority’s energy conservation and line operations squads. Disney, our area’s employment supernova, showed off its needs for engineers, transportation experts, cosmetologists and many other hourly-wage cast members.

The students received a “passport” and had to get it stamped to show participation — and they had to engage with the organizations to get it, planting the seed for networking skills.

Osceola District Assistant Superintendent Michael Allen isn’t only a professional support but he’s a client, noting Thursday two of his three children have been through the program.

“We’ve come home and they said this has been the best experience, I truly get to see firsthand the opportunities available,” he said. “It’s never too early to talk to kids about their future plans.”

“JA Inspire is in its third year in Osceola County. Strong relationships and collaboration with the School District, along with the local business community, sponsor it and make it possible by having booths and talking about their professional opportunities,” said Kathy Panter, President/CEO of Junior Achievement Central Florida

“This is our future workforce. They need to be inspired. They’ll be making life decisions right now that will impact them,” she said.

Panter said the event copies the blueprint of other robust JA middle-school programs that would help resolve a critical issue in Central Florida: lack of a trained work force.

“This answered everything, and we got out ahead of it,” she said.

Next school year, this will occur in October, strategically placed ahead of the November deadline for school choice paperwork to be filed.

Well done Junior Achievement of Central Florida… you truly are making a positive difference in the lives of students  in and around Osceola County!