Kids And Careers

Two years ago Geoff Cramer was a residential real estate developer in Fayetteville, N.C., who was volunteering as an assistant high school wrestling coach. He became dismayed when seniors on the team told him they had never talked to the school’s career counselors.

So in 2001, while a student in the executive MBA program at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in Durham, N.C., Cramer teamed up with other MBA students and wrote a business plan for a new venture to address the career needs of high school students.

That plan led to the creation of Futures for Kids, or F4K, a new nonprofit in nearby Raleigh that is developing a Web portal at futuresforkids.org to give high school students throughout the United States access to information and resources about educational, training and career opportunities after high school.

F4K has won the backing of Fuqua’s former dean, Rex Adams, the chairman of PBS, who has joined its board, as well as the support of all 106 members of Fuqua’s 2001 graduating class, who have agreed to donate their expertise and lobby for their companies’ support for F4K. It also has won the backing of some of the biggest technology firms in the United States, including computer-maker Apple in Cupertino, Calif., and resume-posting Web service Monster.com in Maynard, Mass.

Apple is helping F4K with Web design and funding, while Dan Walker, the company’s chief talent officer, serves on F4K’s advisory board. Monster.com is working with F4K to pilot its new service starting this fall in 70 North Carolina high schools.

Other sponsors contributing either money or technology include Cisco Systems in San Jose, Calif.; IBM in Armonk, N.Y.; SmithKlineGlaxo and Inspire Pharmaceuticals, both in Durham, N.C.; and Mirant (formerly The Southern Companies) in Atlanta.

"There’s a void that exists," said Bill Ziefle, F4K’s executive director. "The kids go to school, and the schools educate them. But the schools don’t focus on the career itself or how to get there."

Cramer, F4K’s director of marketing, cited a recent study by Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich., which found that "students perceive a lack of career guidance in their schools, and often cannot name anyone outside of their parents who have been helpful in career counseling."

Zeifle, a former oil-and-gas lawyer from Houston and a Fuqua classmate of Cramer, said college-bound students have a tough time making sense of the flood of materials promoting college, while students not planning to go to college "need to find out what the possibilities are."

Unlike Monster.com, which provides employers with resumes and other data about job-seekers, F4K will target high school students looking for information about college, jobs or other opportunities.

The site will feature a "virtual career counselor" providing information about skills and classes students will need to get into college, video clips about a "day-in-the-life" of specific jobs, and data on future earnings potential based on the education and training students receive.

Supplementing the online material will be speakers who will visit schools to motivate students to pursue college or other skills training.

F4K aims to raise $500,000 to build the Web site and develop content for the pilot project, and another $3 million to $5 million to roll out the project over three years.

Todd Cohen is editor and publisher of Philanthropy Journal, an online newspaper at www.philanthropyjournal.org. He can be reached at [email protected]