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Local business leaders have high hopes for CEO Program

Richland County business leaders anticipate great outcomes from Midland Insititute's CEO Program. The program will launch during the 2017-2018 academic year.

The accredited entrepreneurship course will be offered to RCHS juniors and seniors. Selected students will interface with local businesses, receive soft-skills training and business mentoring, and create their own businesses.

More than 40 students from RCHS have expressed interest. Student applications are due Feb. 3. Winning candidates will be notified by Feb. 20. The blind application process includes a one-page application, written essay, one personal reference, and one professional reference. A selection committee will then select applicants.

TrustBank CEO and CEO Advisory Board President Dan Eichelberger said, "We want students who ask 'why?' I think that's critical to the program. … We're looking for intiative. … We're out looking for self-starters who are motivated. We're looking for people who can determine a value add. What do they bring to the table independently? I think that's the kind of student that this would create."

Wal-Mart D.C. General Manager and CEO board member Tim Mussert said, "We're looking for students who are self-motivated and who can go out and dig in on their own, and delve into what it takes to start a business."

The board is also searching for a program facilitator. "We are also looking for a facilitator who allows students to potentially approach failure before stepping in and guiding them. It's a little different than a traditional school environment where students are guided, where it's spelled out how to make an A. They're not going to be provided that in this type of environment. Which I think is unique but also can show maturity in those individuals that we're looking for," Mussert said.

The board feels the program will raise awareness about career opportunities available in Richland County.

Eichelberger said, "There are so many people that think there's nothing here in a rural community. ... I've only been in this community for three years, and I've been amazed at what we have to offer. Just at the bank … we have HR, IT, financial, investments, loans. There's so many different things within one business that I don't think people really understand when looking for a career. Giving the opportunity to kids in our community to know that they can come back and raise families and have a fantastic career in their chosen field was inspiring to me."

Interested students have questioned whether they would be a fit for CEO if they do not wish to own a business.

Owner of AM Transport Services and CEO board member Michael McKinney said, "One of the things I saw as a benefit to the kids, as well as a long-term economic development for the community is for the kids to understand that in business there's going to be fewer and fewer positions that ... are just step-by-step. It's going to be much more having people willing to deal with ambiguity, being challenged with goals and things that need done, and they can figure out how to make it happen.

"We don't have any positions at our company where we want people coming in looking for step-by-step. We just can't operate that way. With the way business is now, customers expect more people who can think on their feet. … Our most valuable people are the ones who think like business owners within our business. Either way, it will help them in their careers whether they're going to own their own business or work in someone else's."

Olney Central College (OCC) is the administrative agent for the CEO program and will hold the employment of the program facilitator.

OCC President and CEO board member Rodney Ranes sees the program as an opportunity to retain the talent pool within the district and boost local economy. "We are getting involved to help support both manufacturing and businesses and employers within the district, which is one of the main missions at OCC. Getting involved as the administrative agent will help us do that."

"I have two young children in the school system," Mussert said. "The book knowledge is great but hands-on experience and being able to get out there and accomplish something I think is so much greater than just learning something in a book.

"I talked to some (students) out of Jasper County. The reward that you see on their face is worth any time that I put into it …

"Change is inevitable and change is hard to understand. When it's business related, it's a business purpose change. If you don't understand business, all you want to look at is, 'How does that impact me?' You can't see beyond that because you don't understand the business aspect of it. Helping teach that at such an age, you become more receptive to business needed changes within workforces."

Board members are excited to see new ideas come forth from the young minds involved in the program. They are hopeful that these ideas can strengthen and grow the community.

State Farm agent and board member Lauren McClain said, "I'm really excited for the opportunity for these kids to learn about the opportunities that exist in our community and why we want them to come back here. Not only want them to, but we need them to come back here. We need these students to be our future leaders. If we show a little bit of investment in them, it's just going to get huge rewards for all of us and our kids and grandkids.

"These kids have such amazing ideas! We might have 20 new businesses in Richland County from ideas that we would have never thought of."

Board members feel that great benefits will be realized, whether students experience success or failure with their new businesses.

McKinney said, "To start and create a business is a form of art. … You're taking a blank slate and creating something out of nothing. That's exciting. That's fun. It's very challenging. Whether you succeed or fail, you learn a lot from it. More people should take the jump and give it a shot. If young people understand that you don't necessarily have to go into the corporate world in a big company and work 60 hours a week trying to climb a ladder. You can work 60 hours a week for yourself and build something out of it. That's an option."

Southeastern Illinois leaders in business and industry have voiced concerns about a lack of soft skills among younger generations. This presents an employability problem. The board believes the CEO program is one solution to the problem.

Eichelberger said, "We see that same lacking as we hire the younger people as well. But in going to watch the Jasper County group, we saw it in action. They'd already gone through the soft-skills training. Every one of them looked you in the eye and shook your hand appropriately, commented to you and greeted you. We already see the impact of what they were doing in Jasper County. … That's a huge part of this program is creating those soft skills."

The board observed students from the Jasper CEO Program conduct class as if it were a business meeting. Board members feel the program will help build confidence and teamwork abilities.

Mussert said, "It truly is something for folks to feel like they can get in a strange group of individuals and integrate and become a part of that team and feel like they have a voice and have the confidence to express that voice appropriately. I think that's an awkwardness of the younger generation. They don't have a confidence about them. Maybe it's us. Maybe we squander those ideas. This gives them an opportunity to show that they can work through that and prove themselves."

To stay updated on student and facilitator selection processes and other CEO progress like the "Richland County CEO Program" Facebook page.

By: Source: Olney Daily Mail

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