Career Pathways

Support Industries

Support Industries Include: Construction, Public Safety, Education, and Hospitality

Industry Resources

Spotlight on Success

As the region continues to grow, expansion is also seen in additional occupations that support this very growth. These support industries encompass various jobs and skill sets, al of which are vital to keeping the region thriving.

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Crossing the Finish Line: The Pursuit of an Amazing Career

Giselle Carson, Esq


Anyone meeting Giselle Carson, Esq. will be impressed by her many credentials and accomplishments. Giselle was born in Cuba, immigrated to Canada and then to the United States. At the age of fifteen, her friends, language, culture and home were gone forever when she escaped Cuba. Giselle was scared. Change is scary. Change is hard. But, she was determined to rebuild her life. 

Today, Giselle is a business immigration attorney, speaks three languages, has authored and published a book, Beyond the H-1B, and is an Ironman tri-athlete. She is a shareholder at the Marks Gray law firm in Jacksonville. She partners with regional and global employers to help them hire and retain foreign talent. A pioneer in immigration law in our region, Giselle has been recognized by numerous professional organizations such as the American Lawyer & Corporate Counsel and the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. 

Anyone meeting Giselle Carson, Esq. will be impressed by her many credentials and accomplishments. Giselle was born in Cuba, immigrated to Canada and then to the United States. At the age of fifteen, her friends, language, culture and home were gone forever when she escaped Cuba. Giselle was scared. Change is scary. Change is hard. But, she was determined to rebuild her life. 

Today, Giselle is a business immigration attorney, speaks three languages, has authored and published a book, Beyond the H-1B, and is an Ironman tri-athlete. She is a shareholder at the Marks Gray law firm in Jacksonville. She partners with regional and global employers to help them hire and retain foreign talent. A pioneer in immigration law in our region, Giselle has been recognized by numerous professional organizations such as the American Lawyer & Corporate Counsel and the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. 

What isn’t obvious is that creating a notable legal career wasn’t her first career path. None of her family members are lawyers. It wasn’t on her radar. Rather, it emerged from her personal experiences. Through her journey, she discovered that practicing business immigration law would allow her to help others reach their immigration goals. 

Giselle obtained a bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy. She worked as a rehabilitation department director and started to pursue a master’s degree in business administration. Despite enjoying her job, a seed had been planted. She thought about the immigration lawyers who helped her immigrate to the U.S. and obtain a green card. “I couldn’t be where I am or accomplish what I have without their help,” Giselle says. 

So, she pivoted. She had big goals. Giselle continued to work while taking night classes at Florida Coastal School of Law. She drove from Palm Coast to Jacksonville to take classes twice a week. This made for long stressful weeks. After a few years, she made a firm decision to pursue schooling full time, earning a Juris Doctorate. Giselle graduated first in her class. 

Giselle initially practiced litigation of medical malpractice. However, she realized that the clients she served were not been assisted by local immigration lawyers. So, she used her legal skills, personal experience and relationships to fill the gap. With the guidance of mentors and additional legal coursework, she developed a business immigration law practice within Marks Gray. Her legal work differs from the image typically projected in the media. Instead of presenting a case to a judge and jury, she helps companies understand and navigate laws centered on hiring and retaining foreign talent. Initially, it was just her. Learning all she could, as fast as she could. She kept moving forward one step at a time. Today, she has a strong immigration team of four. 

She is thrilled to do what she does. Giselle says, “I have the privilege to expose Northeast Florida to the world. To help companies bring talent here. To enhance our diversity and innovation. To strengthen our country with immigrants who are hardworking, innovative trailblazers.” 

For those considering the legal profession, Giselle offers encouragement and advice. Like most industries, law is enduring disruption. But, Giselle sees disruption as positive if it helps diversify the field. “We’re missing out on the huge value that diversity and inclusion brings. We need to invest and commit to diversity. Our immigration team is so strong because we value and respect our diversity of ideas, backgrounds and skills.” 

Giselle’s advice is truly a call to action to begin, commit and persist. She states emphatically, “If you’re looking for a perfect world or a perfect situation, it doesn’t exist. Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Take action and don’t give up until you achieve your goal.” 

While she notes that one’s studies are critical, being passionate, determined and invested in one’s profession is paramount. She also encourages involvement with professional and business associations. She says, “They offer tremendous perspective, showcase trends, and generate critical relationships.” 

Giselle’s passion for business immigration law is clear, as is the parallel of her roles as a lawyer and triathlete, “I help my clients overcome challenges and cross their finish line. When I begin a race, the first mile isn’t necessarily fun. But, I know the reward of the finish line is worth it.” This professional truly offers great career and personal lessons for a life of contributions and opportunities. 

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Pathway of Excellence: Blending Military & Law Enforcement Experience to Create a Meaningful Public Safety Career

Chief Robert Hardwick - St. Augustine Beach Police Department


These words stand out when chatting with Chief Robert Hardwick of the St. Augustine Beach Police Department in St. Johns County. With 28 years in law enforcement, he is St. Augustine Beach’s 11th Chief of Police, taking on the role in 2012. According to their website (sabpd.org), his department consists of 21 sworn officers, three civilian personnel, a part-time accreditation manager and ten volunteers. The office provides service 365 days a year and averages 260,000 calls for service each year. This married father of two has blended impactful military and law enforcement careers while coaching local youth. 

Chief Hardwick has had an interesting and compelling career pathway leading to his current position. A veteran of the US Army and Florida National Guard, Chief Hardwick was inspired early on by his brother, a recently retired 30-year member of the US Coast Guard. Chief Hardwick observed his lifestyle, which offered structure as well as the change of various, interesting locales.

Following high school graduation, Chief Hardwick enlisted in the United States Army. Training hard provided ownership and accountability. He realized a long-term paramilitary career path was the right choice after he entered the 82nd Airborne 35th Signal Battalion. Prior to that, he had not considered a law enforcement career. 

After finishing his first Army tour, the next intended duty stop was Korea. However, he and his wife and young son were not able to deploy, as families were not permitted. So, he took a job with the Florida Department of Corrections as a Corrections Officer (CO) at Tomoka Correctional Institution, a state prison in Daytona Beach. However, Chief Hardwick knew that working in the prison system was one step in his career pathway. 

Working as a CO allowed Chief Hardwick to interact with many individuals with diverse situations and backgrounds which impacted his effectiveness eventually working on the road. 

He was hired by Flagler County Sheriff’s Office in Palm Coast in the mid-90’s to “work the road” as a Law Enforcement Officer after taking a cross over course. 

Following his honorable discharge from the Army, Chief Hardwick enlisted in the National Guard for multiple missions. Deployments in both the Army and the National Guard gave him the opportunity to work in many unique assignments with specific orders, including tours in Operation Desert Storm, participating in hurricane relief here at home, and engaging in a special ops missions as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As part of the 53rd Infantry Brigade supporting the 5th Special Forces Group, he and his Guard unit were actively seeking out mid-range targets and experienced the loss of two fellow soldiers. 

Part of a role in law enforcement and the military is being able to pivot quickly. During job changes, military deployments or assignments occurred. For example, Chief Hardwick learned that his Guard Unit reactivated in the middle of his career transition from his role as a Detective at the St. Augustine Police Department to the Assistant Chief Investigator with the Office of the State Attorney 7th Judicial Circuit.There, he was assigned to homicide, government, and corruption cases. At another point, Chief Hardwick re-entered the National Guard and took a three month leave of absence to participate in and graduate from the FBI National Academy, Session 247. 

His most recent assignment was in the Florida Army National Guard as a Platoon Trainer (TAC) at the Camp Blanding Regional Training Institute’s Officer Candidate School (OCS). He describes teaching black hat drill instructors, saying: “I loved making a difference in creating this talent that would lead us in combat.” 

When Chief Hardwick was in school, he found that Vocational (Vo Tech) classes in EMS, Fire & Law Enforcement sparked his interest. He enjoyed the course content and the camaraderie of his classmates. This set the stage for a career in highly regimented role with a strong, supporting team. For those who are considering a career in law enforcement, Chief Hardwick suggests several options. He references the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office Explorer Post 911, which currently has 40 students enrolled with a waiting list. He also cited the Academy of Law Homeland Security in St. Johns County at St. Augustine High School. 

According to the website1, the Academy consists of several components and reviews theory, courts, jails, and patrol officer techniques including report wiring and traffic crash investigations. 

Crime scene investigations, as well as evidence collection and processing are studied. Students also complete requirements for the Florida Class D Security Guard license, the Police Service Aide, and are exposed to a 911 Telecommunicator program. If you cannot access an Explorer Program or participate in an Academy Program, he recommends volunteer or internship programs at your local department. 

Chief Hardwick sees value and a legal tie into many school classes. For example, understanding basic psychology fundamentals helps triage an individual with a mental health condition. A degree isn’t needed, but it can be helpful in developing writing skills used for reports. 

Education—from the military or from formal training— is the key to success. While military service provides a chain of command and a common bond, he does not see it as a requirement for success in this career pathway. Rather, he encourages civilians to consider law enforcement, saying “You can have leadership skills and do the job.” 

Chief Hardwick has found a balance between career and home life, also actively coaching youth sports. Chief Hardwick has been married to his high school sweetheart for 29 years. Together, they have two sons. “The key to your success is your support group.” 

A nearly life-long resident of St. Johns County, he says, “We want the best from our community for our community.” Chief Hardwick loves the people and the community in which he works. Even in the face of adverse situations, he would still choose his profession because he can mentor young men and women to provide a structure, a chance to understand perspectives, and the opportunity to coach. As a representative of the city and his profession, he believes that “Law enforcement is customer service based. We need to hear from our customer. Community feedback is important.” 

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EMT Student at SJR State

Christy Cole


Christy Cole, a Clay County High School Student dual enrolled in the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) program at SJR State, has found that this pathway provides personal satisfaction, a link to her community, and a springboard into additional career opportunities. 

The program prepares students to take the National Registry for EMT certification exam and is the prerequisite for paramedic training. While Christy has taken other dual enrollment courses, she has found the first year of this coursework to be the most extensive and competitive. With the support of her parents, as well as Clay High School teacher and Registered Nurse Lynn Dickinson, she has persevered and learned important lessons. Christy said, “I have always been told from my parents to be better than average and follow every dream I ever had. I believe grades and knowledge can only get you so far, character is what makes an impact.” 

Emergency Medical Technicians need to maintain composure in high stress, life-threatening situations involving an accurate and immediate response. In contrast to a hospital environment, they never know where they’ll be called to demonstrate the technical knowledge needed when delivering high-quality care. Christy has learned that while being under pressure can be difficult, she’s been able to adapt, “It is a great experience. Critical and brisk thinking can become overwhelming, along with rewarding. You learn to train your brain into any high stress environment.” 

Christy has studied in SJR State’s hands-on environment, which includes a real-life ambulance, EMS equipment and manikins to simulate patient scenarios. Students participate in ride-alongs and emergency department clinical hours which provide another opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge in a real-world setting. 

Christy sees the role of an EMT professional as someone who helps the general public in many ways beyond offering emergency medical care. Through interpersonal skill, EMT’s offer connectedness to their community. 

It’s common for individual in public safety professions to have followed in a family member’s footsteps. However, Christy is a trailblazer in her family, saying, “I do not have family in the field and that has encouraged me more so to stand out.” 

For those interested in this career pathway, achieving a paramedic certificate is a one year commitment. In two years, you can earn an Associate of Science degree in Emergency Medical Services. This career pathway in public service can also transition into the healthcare field as well, providing multiple opportunities in the region. 

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Career Pathway Options & Opportunities

Jason Fraley, Military Recruiter/Liaison - JSO


Jason Fraley, Military Recruiter/Liaison, is part of the Recruitment and Selection Unit at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO). After twenty years in the Navy in sonar and combat control, he retired as a Senior Chief. Ninety days prior to his military discharge, he participated in a pre-release program. It was during that process that he met a representative from the United Service Organizations (USO) who recommended that he apply for an open position at the JSO. The interview process impressed him, so Jason bypassed other offers to take the role. 

Jason sees his job in public service as highly rewarding. He witnesses individuals move forward on their own career pathway. For Jason, military service was not his intended career but a means of opportunity that morphed into the winner on a pros and cons list each time it came time to renew his contract. ROTC classes in high school positioned the military as an option, but he didn’t realize then that an aptitude in electronics and fiber optics would eventually lead to a recruiter role. Jason’s job involves recruiting and supporting veterans and their families, as well as translating military and civilian skills to connect individuals to suitable roles at JSO. He also sees each police academy class from initial contact to the classroom to their graduation day. He says, “It’s rewarding from start to finish.” 

While Jason acknowledges a career at JSO provides a soft landing from the military as it involves the continuity of structural and procedural compliance, he encourages civilians of all ages to consider the multitude of careers available. “You can be an 18-year-old Corrections Recruit making $38,084 per year with full healthcare benefits and an awesome retirement package.” Once sworn, Corrections Officers’ salaries start at $42,110. 

Likewise, Community Service Officers (CSO) can be hired at age 18. Once an individual has completed four years of service as a CSO, that individual can transition to the police academy without a degree. CSO’s issue citations, work crashes, and conduct traffic crash investigations. They also manage traffic flow for Jaguars games and other major events in the city. In addition to the Corrections Officer and CSO routes, there are multiple pathways to becoming a law enforcement officer: obtaining a bachelor’s degree, having four years of military experience, or having combined college and related experience.Once individuals complete the police academy, they move to a patrol unit. After working two years on that unit, officers can then apply to other specialty units. In some of these units, sworn officers work alongside civilians. 

There are numerous units in which individuals can work, some of which include various detective units, the dive team, training academy instructors, computer forensics, technical support, internet crimes, K-9 and mounted units, and the air unit. There are career pathways appropriate to specific areas of interest. 

College internships, the Explorer Program, Ride-a-Longs and Work-a-Longs are all exploration tools. Reviewing the JSO website at www.jaxsheriff.org and reaching out to a local recruiter is helpful to learn more about these options. Individuals are also encouraged to learn more about career opportunities available via the videos available on JSO’s YouTube channel, JAXSHERIFF. 

Ultimately, there is an opportunity in this career pathway worth considering, especially if, as Jason says, you have “integrity, a willingness to serve your community, and be a part of something bigger than yourself.” 

 

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Investing in Their Own Paras - Putnam County

Tonya Whitehurst, Area Director of Human Resources


Sometimes, it can be difficult to see your career pathway. Should you pursue additional schooling? Will you find a job that provides gratification as well as increased pay? How will you know you’re a good culture fit within the organization?

These questions and more have been answered by the Putnam County School District via the Paras to Pros Program (Paraprofessionals to Professionals). Tonya Whitehurst, Area Director of Human Resources for the District says this program is a “win-win-win.” The Paras to Pros program is an exclusive offer for those working as paraprofessionals in the Putnam County School District. It’s an internal program established to grow their own talent.

However, it takes a strong partnership to sustain the Paras to Pros program. Initially, Saint Leo University approached Putnam Schools to create a program leveraging their Elementary Education, Bachelor of Arts, K-6 degree program. While enrolled in their degree program, they’ll learn Classroom Management, Educational Technology, Teaching Diverse Populations, Reading Foundations in the Elementary Classroom, and courses in teaching Elementary Math, Science, Social Studies, Language Arts. Saint Leo received approval from the State of Florida to utilize the in-class experience already gleaned by the paraprofessionals to apply to their practicum and internship hour requirements. No leave of absence is required to complete the final internship required. Paraprofessionals that are targeted for this program have an associate degree or 60 college credit hours, as well as one year of service in the district. These individuals must be interested in pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Education and sign an Intent to Enroll Agreement. 

Tonya indicated that the District’s goal was to achieve a ten student class for an initial paraprofessional cohort. Last spring, they achieved that goal with a cohort of 10. Nine of ten are still enrolled in the program. Instructors and administrators within the District having Masters in Education Leadership and Reading degrees also assist with providing instruction. Students take two face-to-face classes and two online classes per semester. There are many benefits of participating in this program, such as access to tuition assistance. Paraprofessional students accepted into the program receive reduced tuition from Saint Leo. Many students qualify for student aid and grants such as the Florida Effective Access to Student Education (EASE) grant, which flattens the cost of tuition to $320 per credit hour at a rate locked in for two years. Students can also reduce their tuition via a TEACH grant by committing to teach in a low socioeconomic school. 

Putnam County Schools purchase textbooks that students can check out and use—a Paras to Pros Library. Saint Leo agreed to keep the same textbook for two to three cohorts, so it allows the District to alleviate costs without incurring a great deal of costs themselves. 

At the end of the 2020-2021 school year, nine paraprofessionals will have earned a BA in Elementary Education from Saint Leo. Students finishing the program will be considered first for hire. The District will help students with a subject area exam if they are interested in transitioning to middle grades. Graduates agree to work for the District for a minimum of one year. 

Tonya sees a distinct advantage in growing their own talent pipeline. Throughout the Para’s degree program which involves student teaching experiences, District teachers can observe strengths, weaknesses, and improvements, all which will determine the best placement within the District. 

Tonya anticipates that the Paras to Pros Program program will only keep on building. “It’s motivating because paraprofessionals can clearly see the end result.” Typically, individuals can be reluctant to pay for and pursue training that may not yield a promotion. The Paras to Pros Program removes that apprehension. Tonya anticipates a waiting list and increased interest after the first cohort graduates. “The District has a long-term recruiting and retention strategy as well as succession planning.” Clearly, this career pathway checks a lot of boxes for Putnam County Schools. 

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Bloom Where You’re planted

Carley Dyal, an agricultural teacher at KHHS in Clay County


Sometimes, one's career pathway circles back to the beginning. Such is the case with Carley Dyal, an agricultural teacher atKeystone Heights High School (KHHS) in Clay County.

Carley attended Keystone Heights as a student and was involved in Keystone's Agriscience pathway from middle school through high school. Carley's family has a strong agricultural background, as
her paternal grandfather farmed. Carley showed steer and raised cows. She participated in 4-H in Elementary School and FFA in High School.

Carley was dual-enrolled, earning an Associate's degree from Santa Fe College while attending KHHS. She earned a B.S. in Agriculture Education the University of Florida. It wasn't Carley's plan to return to Clay County after her college graduation.

Carley had interned at Santa Fe High School, which had a large lab in conjunction with a veterinary science program. She thought she would stay around Union and Alachua Counties. However, a position opened up in Clay County. Combine that opportunity with a bit of homesickness, and Carley realized she was "meant to go home."

Currently, Carley teaches 3 Middle School and 2 High School agriculture classes. She taught at Lake Asbury Junior High School for a year and has been at KHHS for the past two years. Her middle school courses focus on introductory information on the basics of the agriculture industry, such as plants and animals. Her high school courses delve more deeply into animal agriscience. Unlike Carley, only a handful of her students work or live on a farm or are involved in 4-H. However, her passion and enthusiasm resonates in the classroom. She knew from an early age that her career pathway involved sharing her skills and knowledge in the classroom.

Carley is motivated to provide students experiences they'll remember. She recalls student amazement at planting a seed, watching it grow, and harvesting it. She said students enjoy the experience of raising a baby calf to become a full grown 1,200 pound animal by April—an animal they have fed, brushed and provided care. She also cited fieldtrips as being an experience students enjoy, particularly the Sunbelt Ag Expo in Moultrie, Georgia each October. This hands-on event feature vendors such as John Deere. Carley charters a bus for 50 students. This perennial favorite ofsome students involves horse demonstrations, a livestock pavilion and field demonstrations.

Another fun aspect of Carley's pursuit of the educational pathways is her ability to reach students who have an interest in both agriculture and technology. Self-driving tractors have GPS technology embedded in the equipment tomaximize efficiency in planting and harvesting, as well as maximize crop yield. Weather analysis, automated irrigations, and reduced water usage are all end-products of increased technology used in today's agriculture. Carley cited one Keystone graduate who was keenly interested in drones, so he pursued a Drone Technology Program at the University of North Florida. He intends to use this skill to fly over farms, providing remotesurveillance of properties and helping to identify potential issues with crops or livestock without the cost of manual inspections.

One of Carley's favorite aspects of teaching is seeing the lasting effects on kids. One parent approached her after adraining first year of teaching and indicated, "You've brought him out of his shell. He's actually talking about his career plans now." Much like her students tracking the growth of their plants or animals, Carley enjoys monitoring the continued growth of her students after they've left Keystone High School. Carley encourages anyone consideringeducation as a career path that they'll have such a tremendous impact on students. She acknowledges the significantdemand for teachers. "It's a hard job. Some days are rough, especially in your first year. It's worth it. Kids see yourpassion and interest, and they'll appreciate it. Surround yourself with a team of other teachers you can count on and bounce ideas off of, even if they're not in your content area."

Carley has made an impact on senior teachers and colleagues as well. Former Agriculture teacher and current Career & Technical Education Supervisor for Clay County Schools, Kelly Mosley, says, "Carley is a wonderful exam- ple. She is a natural teacher and she is a tremendous example of a ‘beginning' teacher. It always surprises me she has only been teaching for 3 years because she has skills and abilities far beyond her years!"

Sometimes in life, the same soil that helps to grow you is the soil you also cultivate for others.

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Foundational Skills Establish Multiple Pathways

Frank H. Peterson, a Laboratory School


Frank H. Peterson, a laboratory school in the Duval County Public School system, offers students a four year Early Childhood Academy program based on National Career Academy Coalition Standards of Practice that facilitate students’ growth and development.  The ultimate goal is providing instruction and opportunity to best prepare students to obtain the industry recognized certification, National Childhood Development Associate (CDA).  As students are promoted by grade, they increase their preparedness for credentialing.  The frameworks also provide college readiness with opportunity for dual enrollment through Florida State College at Jacksonville.

Based on Florida Frameworks for Early Childhood Education, students engage in learning about financial management associated with operating a childcare center; health, safety, and environmental issues such as identifying child abuse and neglect; adherence to all rules and regulations associated with working in or managing a daycare; and developmentally appropriate practices for children through age eight.

Geraldine Thompson is the lead Early Childhood Academy teacher at Frank H. Peterson.  She’s been in the teaching profession for over thirty years.  While most of her career was spent in Health Education, Geraldine always liked Family and Consumer Science.  So, she returned to obtain the additional certification in Early Childhood Education.

Geraldine shared that the academy involves students from freshman to senior.  In her three years of teaching in this particular program, 23 students have received their national certification.  To qualify to take the test, students must have 480 hours of lab experience with children ages birth through five years, professional observation by the Council for Professional Recognition, and 120 hours of Early Childhood Education.  Students must take and pass the written exam administered by the Council of Professional Recognition to obtain the CDA.

Students receive hands-on experience onsite at Frank H. Peterson via the Silver Eaglets’ Preschool.  This is not a daycare—specific, thematic curriculum is taught by students.  The Silver Eaglets’ Preschool is offered from 8:30-1:00 Monday through Friday, allowing ample time for assessment of student understanding and application of course material.  Parents can bring in children ages 2 to 5 years old.  Typically, 15 to 20 preschoolers attend.  Student-teachers are divided into different disciplines with the goal of preparing the preschoolers for Kindergarten.  This experience also prepares students for taking the CDA exam.

Geraldine likes the applicability and functionality of the CDA.  Many successful, nationally-recognized experts in the field started their careers with a CDA foundation.  Due to the COVI-19 pandemic, students have been doing more independent research projects at home.  Geraldine recently assigned her students to study and report on these experts, such as the CEO for the Council of Professional Recognition (cdacouncil.org) and the National association of Educational Young Children (naeyc.org).  This research is also serving the purpose of promoting student membership in organizations that advocate leadership skills.

Students are learning that transferrable skills generated from this certification are very important.  Geraldine indicated that, “Even in the midst of COVID, you can transition how you use child care skills.  You can do Zoom lessons with students.  Even as a parent, students will use this knowledge.”

Geraldine shared that students have seen that this curriculum has value and provides a great career pathway perspective.  She shared that a student emailed her, saying, “My eyes are opened and I really want to pursue this profession now.”  Students who have graduated from the program are using this credential in various ways.  Two are working in pre-schools looking to direct and own their own pre-schools, combining an educational and entrepreneurial pathways.  One student obtained her CDA as a Junior and has worked the entire school year in a pre-school.  She is pursuing a college major related to children.

Ultimately, a high school academy can provide a fantastic framework for foundational skills leading to one’s chosen profession.

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Building Their Own Workforce Pipeline

Janet Duffy of Eisman & Russo, Inc.


Construction Career Days, held in February each year at the Jacksonville Equestrian Center, engages 11th and 12th graders. Over the course of three days, over 3,000 students in 11 counties throughout the region participate in learning labs, use equipment, and can ask questions of industry professionals. Every student is encouraged to attend these events, regardless of their interest in transportation construction or engineering, as there are jobs in accounting, project management, human resource management, and marketing that exist in the construction industry as well.

According to Janet Duffy of Eisman & Russo, Inc., “As the needs grow in our community, so does the need for our young men and women in our area to learn about and pursue a career in the Construction / Engineering profession. The Department of Transportation and the Transportation Industry have teamed together to put on a one of a kind event to show high school students the many great career opportunities that exist so hopefully they will pursue a careers in our industry.”

Duffy is one of the many event organizers and volunteers who makes the event shine. Contractors, engineers and utility companies share their expertise with students each year to plant seeds in the hopes of growing interest in construction-related occupations.

The event is a partnership between the Florida Transportation Builders Association (FTBA), Industry Partners, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). Students will interact with the industry via over 50 learning labs. Over 20 exhibitors are on hand as well. Students are given the opportunity to operate heavy equipment and learn more about scholarship opportunities offered by the NEFL Construction Career Days.

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An Unexpected Career Path

Ashley - Job Business Development Manager role at Marand Builders


Ashley Szczukowski never intended to be employed in the construction industry. She returned to school at a turning point, needing to make a change because of an economic downturn. She attended Florida State College at Jacksonville and the University of North Florida as a non-traditional student at age 38, studying communications and public relations. She credits the generosity of a local family that provided a full ride scholarship as “making an investment in our community and our people.”

Ashley’s skill set, which includes relationship building, fundraising and sales, hadn’t been utilized in construction prior to her Business Development Manager role at Marand Builders. Rather, she worked in health care and at non-profits in various capacities involving donor relations as well as corporate and agency partnerships. She heard about the job “through the grapevine.” Ashley thought she was chatting with Marand about making a referral for the role. Instead, the conversation made it apparent that she was the best fit.

When asked what interests and motivates her in the construction industry, Ashley indicated that understanding and meeting the needs of her customer is key. She loves “connecting the person to the THING. Whether that’s helping a person build a medical office building, buying a big piece of equipment, it’s all about connecting people and watching the relationships grow.” She encourages others who are considering their career pathways to look at construction, saying, “Look at your skill set. Determine where there are gaps. Decide what it will take to fill those gaps and be willing to do the work that others are not willing to do.”

Being a woman in a historically male-driven occupation doesn’t intimidate Ashley at all. “The paradigm is changing. The landscape is different. There are many women LEADING in architecture, firms, and in project management in our region. It is great to have a female perspective, not only in design, but in infrastructure as well.” Ashley shared an example of a design, project management, and architectural team from one of Jacksonville’s largest employers which is made up of 75 percent women.

Ultimately, the construction industry affords Ashley a great career opportunity to grow her career in an area she’s called home for 18 years. “We’re bringing quality people to the area and we’re being noticed internationally for our quality craftsmanship in many areas.”

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Testimonials

"We want the best from our community and for our community."

Chief Robert Hardwick
Chief of Police, St. Augustine Beach

"There are so many ways to plug in to conservation work from marketing to finance to construction."

Brandy Carvalho
Development & Sustainability Manager, White Oak Conservation

Being in Public Service requires "Integrity, a willingness to serve your community, and being part of something bigger than yourself."

Jason Fraley
Military Recruiter, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office

“Look at your skill set. Determine where there are gaps. Decide what it will take to fill those gaps and be willing to do the work that others are not willing to do.” 

Ashley Szczukowski
Business Development Manager, Marand Builders

"You have to be weather tolerant and comfortable being outside."

Lindsay Meyer
Creative Director and Owner, Congaree and Penn

"Being an educator is not only a privilege, but also an opportunity to inspire others to also commit to the act of service that is involved with making impactful change throughout our communities."

Mrs. Leena Hall-Young
Duval County Teacher of the Year 2020-2021, William M. Raines High School

"If you're looking for the perfect world or the perfect situation, it doesn't exist.  Take action and don't give up until you achieve your goal."

Giselle Carson, Esq.
Business Immigration Attorney, Marks Gray

'As the world population continues to grow and agricultural lands diminish, it is essential to maximize crop yield."

Dr. Ayan Dutta
University of North Florida Computing Assistant Professor/Lead Researcher

"Some days are rough, especially in your first year. It’s worth it. Kids see your passion and interest, and they’ll appreciate it. Surround yourself with a team of other teachers you can count on and bounce ideas off of, even if they’re not in your content area."

Carley Dyal
Agricultural Teacher Keystone Heights High School

“Carley is a natural teacher and she is a tremendous example of a ‘beginning’ teacher. It always surprises me she has only been teaching for 3 years because she has skills and abilities far beyond her years!”

Kelly Mosely
Former Agriculture teacher and current Career & Technical Education Supervisor for Clay County Schools

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