FIT Program launches in Sedalia

Ed Watkins speaks to a group of business, community and educational leaders Thursday evening at the launch of the FIT Program. Watkins developed the program for Pettis County and hopes to grow the student internship model into a nationwide plan.

Dr. Doug Kiburz speaks to those in attendance at the information meeting for the FIT Program. Kiburz participated in an internship program Ed Watkins ran in the early ’80s in Lincoln, Nebraska. “The internships I was a part of were crucial in finding my pathway,” Kiburz said.

Thursday night saw the official launch of the FIT (Forty-hour Internship Tryout) Program with a meeting of more than 40 leaders of business, industry, and education at the Katy Depot.

The program, which is the brainchild of Ed Watkins, is designed to place area high school juniors and seniors in internship and apprenticeship programs in businesses throughout Pettis County.

Under the program, students would work a 40-hour workweek as an intern in both their junior and senior year.

Sacred Heart High School is already participating in the program.

Other area schools, including the Sedalia School District 200 and State Fair Community College, sent administrators and representatives to the meeting to learn more about the program and the possibilities it can offer their students.

“All of us sitting in this room may never have a better opportunity than this to be a part of something of such great benefit to our youth and our community,” John Swearingin, a sponsor of the FIT Program, said. “I feel that it is a great opportunity to be at this point in the process where I am helping to shape and develop a program that will soon be the model for the nation.

“We have a group of smart, energetic people sitting right here in this room,” Swearingin said. “What we need to do is lock arms and run right at it and gets this done for everyone.”

The program is based off a concept Watkins used in the early ’80s at Harris Labs in Lincoln, Nebraska.

One of the first individuals to be enrolled in the initial internship program was Dr. Doug Kiburz.

“What Ed’s internship program provided me, was practical hands-on experience and exposure to things I would never have had the opportunity to experience and be a part of,” Kiburz said. “The internships I was a part of were crucial in finding my pathway.”

According to Kiburz, the FIT program provides several benefits for the students.

Prior to accepting an internship, the student is given an interest survey, developed by Watkins, which help to narrow down the options for placement.

“My dreams and plans of being a cowboy truly weren’t among my top five options,” Kiburz said with a laugh. “It is far better to narrow down choices when you are in high school and not after spending four years in college and discovering that what you planned to do truly isn’t what you want to do.”

Kiburz sees several other advantages to the program:

• It allows students the opportunity to practice what has been learned in the classroom.

• It provides firsthand knowledge of the organization and structure of the chosen field; individuals are given the opportunity to see what it takes to succeed.

• Students have the opportunity to network and make connections for future references or to further their experience after the program is completed.

• It provides the students experience in resume writing and interviewing.

The benefits of the program are not only for the students.

“The FIT program brings new vigor to the workplace,” Kiburz said. “All the young, inquisitive minds often can turn the employees into teachers.

“The students often become more involved in the community and they develop a sense of civic involvement.”

One of the largest benefits to the program, according to Kiburz, is that it gives talented students the opportunity to stay in the Sedalia area.

“By allowing our students the opportunity to work in our businesses and industries it helps develop the idea that coming back to Sedalia has great potential,” Kiburz added. “Small town Midwest living, and Sedalia truly is a well-kept secret.”

Linda Christle, executive director of Economic Development Sedalia-Pettis County, provided economic numbers to support Kiburz’s statement.

“Since June 30, 2014, we have created 1,775 new jobs in Pettis County,” Christle said. “The average annual wage for those jobs is $41,000.”

Nine years ago, the average wage in Sedalia was $26,000. Today that number is $31,205.

“Unemployment in Pettis County is at 5 percent, but I like to look at in terms that our employment is up,” Christle added.

One thing that is a challenge, according to Christle, is that as the older generation of workers retires, a wealth of work experience also leaves the area.

“When older workers retire they take with them a vast wealth of knowledge,” Christle said. “The FIT Program and its internships give students the opportunity to learn and grow from that knowledge base.”

“We are connected to the world,” Watkins said. “The youth of Pettis County needs to know that as well.”

One person who has agreed to be a sponsor for the FIT program is local mason Andrew Truener. Truener serves on the State Association of Brick Layers in Missouri, and knows firsthand the importance of the apprenticeship program.

“The youth of any community is their future,” Truener said after the meeting. “All of us need to look at how we can play a part in this program. I am completely on board with the FIT Program and will do whatever is necessary starting this fall to do what I can to help make this work.

“Sedalia has always been my community, my home. It truly is a great place to be and we all have a role to play in maintaining that.”

Individuals who would like to allow their businesses to become a part of the internship program, or those with questions should contact Watkins at 314-330-7078.

Sedalia Democrat
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