Investing in Sumter County’s future: Ignite College and Career Academy offers an invitation

Published 4:16 pm Wednesday, March 31, 2021

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An invitation to join forces with Ignite College and Career Academy is upon us. Many people have already invested their time and talent into the College and Career Academy (CCA) and this week, another milestone is being enjoyed. Registration opened to students and their families on Tuesday, March 30th and will close on Friday, April 2nd. Eager to learn exactly what possibilities the CCA will offer Sumter County, we sat down with Dr. Don Gilman, the CEO of Ignite.

Don, who has been in education for 18 years, brings an excitement when speaking of the CCA. When asked what the academy’s goal is, he states, “Our goal, our mission, our purpose is to build a workforce that is ready to transition from high school into entry level careers. We get them (students) ready by getting them employability skills, getting them understanding their role and getting them understanding how to progress within the pipeline of working.” How does the CCA plan to do this? Through internships and apprenticeships. Internships are short term, perhaps a semester in duration. Apprenticeships offer fulltime work and may last as long as 2 years post-graduation. The experience of being onsite to learn career skills is rich in opening doors for both our students as well as local businesses. Apprenticeships give both parties an opportunity to grow into a career. Don reports, “Often times when we get a student into an apprenticeship, it grows into them becoming a valued full-time employee.” Ignite is looking to equip our students to be “employees with employability skills, critical thinking skills, some experience and a readiness to work.” When asked to explain “employability skills” Don describes such skills as being able to communicate effectively, how to simply ask a question, showing up to work on time, problem solving, how to compile a resume and cover letter, how to fill out an application and even how to make an appropriate impression through attire. Employability skills are the qualities needed in order to build a career. The CCA makes it possible for our students to communicate the abilities learned in an academic setting through education on proficient workplace behavior.

Partnerships with industry and business are vital to this process. For the student to practice and increase their employability skills, the student must be able to grow into them. Industry and businesses are offering a space for this growth. Many businesses have already invested in the CCA by completing a needs assessment and helping to design the goals of the CCA in a grant writing process. In the assessment, they made known what they want out of an employee. Ignite will target these needs and in turn the businesses will give students an opportunity to put the new skills into play by inviting them to join their workforce. The staff of both Ignite and the worksite assist the student to identify strengths as well as areas for improvement. An important part of making a career decision is a willingness to investigate the future. The CCA is an opportunity to do so in a real way. If a student has identified healthcare as something they would “like to do when they grow up” it may be they try on nursing for a period. However, sometimes a student will learn rather quickly not all jobs in healthcare capitalize on the same skill. While a student may figure out nursing is not where their talent lies, there is still a possibility they could find their career in other fields of healthcare, such as physical therapy, cyber security or even plant management. The CCA, in partnership with industrial host sites makes it possible for the student to quickly identify where they are best suited by letting a student “try on” a career. While it is valuable to know what work is best suited to the student, it is wise to also know what is not suited. The CCA allows for time to be invested in both areas prior to deciding on future goals.

In addition to seeing a local industry need, the CCA also keeps an eye on needs outside of the county. Ignite looks to provide a plethora of “pathways” in which a student can concentrate. One such area is building an audio/visual workforce. Georgia has taken on the goal of becoming an attractive state for producers of television and movies. This industry will need professionals to offer their services. Our CCA plans on providing those professionals. Another area seeing growth is cyber security. Ignite stands ready to meet those growing demands as well. It is the hope, that as a Sumter County student, a youth will be outfitted with everything they need to be unlimited in geographical and career potential. To get the most out of our CCA, Don suggests parents invest in a conversation with their child. To learn what s/he is interested in, to set appropriate expectations and to determine if the career is sustainable are all topics needing to be addressed. Ignite welcomes those conversations to come to fruition and invites parents to follow through by registering their child online for the academy. The website is, and the registration form can be found on the right side of the page. The registration is simple but will require the family to have some sense of where the student is headed, as the offerings are plenty and stretch across a wide range. You will find options for everything from skilled labor to educational professions, agricultural jobs, medical employment to cosmetology and many more. This diversity is also reflected on the board of directors, as its members are serving in several different areas and offer a rich view of the potential in our area. If your child is a Sumter County Schools student and 9th grade or older, s/he is a candidate.

Don is a big believer in enthusiasm. It is one of the characteristics he hopes every student will enjoy. His enthusiasm, however, is not limited to students. He stands hoping the community will join Ignite in an enthusiastic posture. Industry, students and our neighbors are bound to see the fruit of Sumter County having a CCA. A strong work force is the primary need in building industry for our home. If potential industry knows our workforce is ready, they are far more likely to house their business in Sumter County. As industry grows, so does our tax base, which means lower taxes for all residents. Expanding employment opportunities removes other boundaries as well. A stronger, better prepared workforce allows for greater financial security and poverty rates will lower. As a community’s poverty rate lowers so do many of the ills that come with it, such as poor health, crime and broken families. Ignite is coming into our village with a big goal as they look to build a strong workforce. We would be wise to invest our enthusiasm with them. Our role, no matter how involved, is needed. Show your enthusiasm, something great is coming!