More than 450 middle and high school students from across the state met up with Maine employers Oct. 15-19 at JMG‘s Leadership Education Conference in Rome.

Four groups each spent 24 hours at the camp. The overnight conference gave students the opportunity to practice and demonstrate career skills that are in high demand in Maine’s job market, according to a JMG news release.

“Now, more than ever, Maine needs skilled employees who are prepared to successfully transition into the workforce, “said Kristina Cannon, executive director of Main Street Skowhegan, according to the release. “It’s great that the JMG program and LEC are teaching our students these skills, including problem-solving, critical-thinking, teamwork, communication, and leadership.”

Cannon was one of more than 20 volunteers who acted as judges and facilitators for several career prep competitions. In one challenge, students were broken up into teams and assigned to build a cardboard boat. On each team, students took on the roles of product manager, engineer and marketer. Once the boat was designed and built, they pitched their water craft to a panel of volunteer judges representing employers including Bank of America, Small Business Administration, Day’s Jewelers and Finance Authority of Maine. After the pitch, the boats were put to the real test in North Pond, according to the release.

“Being able to do projects like this is fun. We’re not just sitting in class,” said Gavin Tsoukalas, a sophomore from Winslow High School, according to the release. “These projects force us to use teamwork, and to organize and plan together. We’re learning when to step forward and give our input, and when to step back and give someone else a turn.”

The conference also introduced the students to social entrepreneurship, a growing sector of the economy that focuses on solving social, cultural and environmental problems.

“The Social Entrepreneurship Challenge asked students to assess their schools or communities to identify an unmet need,” said Tracie Travers, JMG’s Workforce Development manager, according to the release. “They are asked to develop a solution, then create a business to meet that need. Along with developing workforce skills, this challenge also teaches students to work together and to use their voices and intellect to create real change in Maine’s communities.”

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