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A Foundation for Change

A Foundation for Change

The end of a school year is always a milestone.  Sometimes that milestone is making it to first or fourth grade, like it was in my house just days ago.  Other times, it means moving on to middle or high school.  It is often a symbol of how time flies, as you watch little ones grow.

Nothing is more transformational than graduating from high school, technical school, or college.  Regardless of age, these are the exclamation points at the end of a long journey.  With these life events come the most wonderful stories of commitment, drive, academic achievements, scholarships, overcoming obstacles and entering the workforce.

Behind these inspirational and hopeful stories is a hard truth. Without an industry certification or a degree, this graduating workforce is at a disadvantage. Those without a high school diploma are more so.

We talk a lot about the workforce not having the training and credentials needed to fill in-demand jobs, but that’s not what is quickly becoming the underlying problem in our collective effort to create a more skilled workforce, a more sustainable economy, and a higher quality of life in the region.

What is? Working effectively with others, providing good customer service, writing a proper email, filling out an application, getting through an interview, shaking someone’s hand, or simply looking another professional in the eye are all skills, or traits really, that are the topic of conversation among local employers, educators and economic developers across the country.  It’s top of mind for the FutureMakers Coalition, a group of people, stakeholders in the cause, working across business, education, governmental, and nonprofit sectors from cradle-to-career to transform Southwest Florida’s workforce.

Communication, teamwork and critical thinking are just some of the foundational skills needed in a skilled workforce. All other skills are built upon these, like the foundation of a house. The growing deficiency in our ability to demonstrate these skills is fast becoming the underlying barrier to creating the change we need to fill jobs and ultimately change lives in the Southwest Florida. Without these foundational skills, even the most in-demand credential can result in a lifetime of un- or underemployment among thousands.

Fully developing the regional pathway toward a more skilled workforce with a focus on foundation skills is the type of transformational change needed in our economy. These are skills that begin forming at birth.  We need consistent and high-quality early childhood education and soft skills training in K through 12. We need families and mentors to understand and play their part.  Employers need resources to help applicants and existing employees with the skills they need to become more employable.  It’s clear this kind of problem will not be solved by a single entity.  Everyone, all stakeholders including philanthropists of all kinds, have a role in addressing this systemic problem for the sake of our region.

Just a couple weeks ago, I was in a meeting with a group of people from all over Southwest Florida talking about real solutions that are fast-becoming attainable in a decade-long effort to address these challenges.  These stakeholders are developing promising practices because educators, employers, nonprofits, and philanthropists are all sitting at the foundational skills table together.  This is the foundation we need for change.

For more information on the FutureMakers Coalition, visit Sign the wall!


The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created over 400 philanthropic funds.  Thanks to them, last year the Foundation invested $5 million in grants and programs to the community.  With assets of $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $67 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan.  Based in Fort Myers, the Foundation has satellite offices located in Sanibel Island, LaBelle (Hendry County), and downtown Fort Myers.  For more information, visit or call 239-274-5900.




Tessa Lesage
Tessa Lesage