Share this article

print logo

Students in Kenmore working on career skills

A student spends years in college studying to be an actuary, only to find out during her first day on the job that she absolutely hates the work.

An employer conducts a job interview with a new graduate, only to be interrupted by the ringing cellphone of the applicant, who actually takes the call.

A career academy in the Ken-Ton School District aims to eliminate either of these scenarios from ever again involving one of its graduates.

The Virtual Enterprise and Finance Academy within Kenmore East and West high schools gives students intense, hands-on experience to prepare them for the business world.

"We're giving them the skills they need to succeed in real life, in college and in their careers," said Nancy Pray, a curriculum learning specialist in the district who heads the academy.

Former businessman Randy McPhee, an academy instructor of business law at Kenmore West, became a teacher precisely after seeing how unprepared his employees were for the real world.

He requested a report from an employee, only to receive a jumble of words he could not understand.

"I said, 'I can't understand a word of it. Didn't you take English in high school?' " McPhee recalled. "He said, 'Yes, I got B's.' I thought, 'What are these people being taught?' "

The academy's advisory board boasts members representing several major companies, including Mayer Brothers, Buffalo Medical Group and Bank of America. Their input is crucial in identifying and bridging the skills gaps employers find among new graduates and potential hires.

Advisory board members said employment candidates are sorely lacking interpersonal, conceptualization and problem-solving skills, independence and logic.

"They're not used to dealing face to face, and there is also a little bit of entitlement," said a board member from Independent Health. "We have to do a lot more hand-holding. This [program] could plug more real-life business skills into the curriculum than the traditional math and science classes."

Graduation from the academy requires such courses as financial literacy, accounting and Web design. It includes an internship component that matches students with mentors in the business community and puts them on the job in their chosen field for 54 hours over 20 weeks.

That's where one student realized that she did not want to be an actuary, and where at least four Kenmore East students who spoke at an academy advisory board meeting Wednesday decided they wanted to go into accounting -- something they had never dreamed of before.

Each is enrolled at a university to begin accounting degrees in the fall.