• 66°

Professionals: don’t wait until you graduate

High school freshmen took notes, asked questions and learned to better plan for what comes after graduation at an annual Suffolk conference.

The 10th annual Career and Technical Education Professional Student Conference was held on Thursday at Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront. The Career and Technical Education Advisory Council works with Suffolk Public Schools — along with business and community partners — each year to organize the conference.

About 150 freshmen from Lakeland, King’s Fork and Nansemond River high schools learned tips on how to get started on pursuing their ideal careers, even for those uncertain of their dream jobs, said Gail Bess, coordinator of career and technical education.

“It’s OK to change your mind as long as you have a starting point,” Bess said.

The students attended sessions with speakers like Andre Skinner, director of the College and Career Academy at Pruden, who explained the importance of an early start on college credit courses to better prepare for the college application process.

Teachers agreed that students need to be more proactive applicants.

“It’s more competitive now than in the past,” said Nansemond River High School business teacher Nichole Simmons. “The earlier they start, the better they can plan for a successful future.”

Representatives from Hampton Roads Sanitation District and Chick-fil-A discussed what to consider when applying for jobs, along with proper workplace etiquette for when they become professionals.

“We want to be sure they understand what’s expected of them in the workplace,” Bess said.

According to Angela Turntine, founder of Turntine Insurance Agency Inc., there is no need for the students to wait until they’re older to make their mark.

Alongside Steve Jobs and Walt Disney, Turntine highlighted successful entrepreneurs that weren’t even 18 years old. One of them was Moziah Bridges, who launched his own bow-tie business Mo’s Bows at age 9 before becoming the youngest entrepreneur to appear on “Shark Tank,” she said.

She said his company, which made $350,000 in 2011, wasn’t a radical new idea. It was just his passion.

“He didn’t create the bow tie,” Turntine said. “He just liked bow ties, so he created his own.”

She encouraged students to take the initiative. If they had a particular interest, then they should find companies made for that interest, and ask if they have mentorship programs or summer internships, she said.

“Don’t wait until you’re a senior to figure out what you’re going to do,” Turntine said. “It’s going to go by so fast.”

Students like King’s Fork High School freshman Samiya Smith, 14, heard the message loud and clear.

“You have to hustle,” Samiya said. “Everyone kept saying you have to hustle, work hard, do what you have to do and don’t give up.”