A new online management tool has Faribault educators, business professionals and the Chamber of Commerce feeling excited about the future of local students!
FutureForward, a software portal that provides a common platform for students, educators and business professionals, is designed to close communication gaps between the groups. The portal could throw open the door for business professionals to speak in the classroom, students to job shadow or for classes to make field trips to area businesses and industry.
“We needed a tool that could serve as an online repository of people so we don’t need to have educators spend so much time figuring out who they need to be talking to,” said Sarah Ness, program manager of Southeast Service Cooperative in Rochester. “I think what’s so invigorating is we have multi-sector groups working together to achieve the same goal.”
Next week, Ness will work with Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Nort Johnson to develop the process for area business professionals to use. From there, Ness will work with Brian Coleman, Faribault Public Schools service learning coordinator, to train educators to use the tool.
“We’re excited there’s going to be so much private business involvement; excited this is high on their priority list,” said Ness. “We’re very thankful and excited Faribault Public Schools is making this a priority as well.”
The Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce sponsors the FutureForward portal, which was funded by a $100,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Trust. The Chamber will introduce the program to different schools, potentially Faribault Middle School, as the process becomes more fluid. Johnson anticipates private schools in Faribault, as well as smaller school districts in surrounding towns, will also get a piece of the pie.
“I think most importantly we see this as a tool that will really enhance the work the Chamber of Commerce is doing with South Central College and Faribault High School,” said Johnson. “Industry needs in Faribault can prosper greatly in the human resource area by ensuring we give Faribault students the chance to connect with local businesses as they move forward in their education.”
When FHS starts implementing a seven-period day in the fall, Johnson said more opportunities to connect students with careers will arise. FHS is also in the development stages of implementing the P-TECH (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) model, which would allow high school students to earn an industry-recognized associate degree at South Central College. P-TECH, will work hand in hand with FutureForward, said Johnson.
Southern Minnesota’s 11-county region will pilot FutureForward, but Ness said other regions of the state have already expressed interest in implementing it.
“I think that Faribault is actually a prime leader and early adopter of this,” said Ness. “I have received letters of intent from over 30 school districts. We only have about 50 in 11 counties, so an overwhelming number of schools have identified this tool as a need.”
A new way to connect
The FutureForward software itself feels much like social media, according to Ness. Individual professionals and students create their own profiles in the system to foster connectivity and conversation, customizing their preferences for the type of experience they want. Members may include in their profiles the distance they’re willing to travel and which districts in the system may view their data.
FutureForward also includes management tools for booking experiences and a feedback mechanism. This facet could help educators determine, for example, which professionals have an engaging presence as classroom speakers.
The software asks professionals and employers to select their areas of expertise to showcase on their profiles, and the same is expected of students. Using this data, FutureForward works as a matchmaking device.
“There’s no other system out there that does that,” said Ness. “We want them to keep coming back into this [system], keep researching and facilitating that relationship.”
Johnson said the portal will be fully implemented by the end of the school year, so students and professionals should know how to use it for academic year 2020-21.
“The Chamber of Commerce has been playing an important role with education in Faribault, and managing this portal will be another contribution we’re able to make to get students on their pathways to success,” said Johnson. “ … I can’t say enough about our education partners and our business community working to make sure that our Faribault kids have every opportunity to find a path to success right here in our area.”