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Over 120 students and nearly three dozen employers gathered at the Rotary Club of Picton Hall on Thursday for a little chat.

An employee-employer meet, great and strategy session entitled CHAT (Conversation to Help Align Teamwork) brought Grade 10-12 students from Prince Edward Collegiate Institute, Quinte Secondary and Nicholson Collegiate together with business owners and leaders in order to bridge gaps and help each side understand the other.

Lisa Rashotte of Community Living Prince Edward was one of the event’s organizers and she hoped to bridge several gaps that exist between workers and business owners.

The round table discussion was expected to delve into what employers are looking for in young employees, the challenges facing young workers and advice for those students entering the work place as well as establish contacts and connections between a budding workforce and employers hunting for staff.

“Today is about bridging those gaps and helping employers gain insight into what today’s student workers are thinking, their strategies and goals as well as helping students understand what expectations and the needs of employers are,” Rashotte said.

Rashotte added that gaining a better social network and understanding the importance of good impressions over negative ones was another aspect of the session.

The majority of students attending were enrolled in various co-operative education programs and PECI co-op program educator Hilary Anne Clarke said the initial concept was to have a panel of a few employers speak with about 30 local students.

However, the program grew and soon, many employers were eager to meet with students and get a chance to both explain their business and explore for new leads on staff.

“My hope is that the students will speak up and share things they might normally have some difficulty with at their placement or place of work,” Clarke said. “Some student workers need to be shown tasks more than once and sometimes they have a good reason for learning or adapting the way they do.”

The PECI Co-operative Education program continues to offer real life work experience that simply cannot be gained inside a classroom.

Clarke explained that PECI has a range of students at different levels in their secondary school career taking advantage of the program and Co-op is opening both doors and minds.

“They get to see that what the real world is like and what we are teaching them in the class room is applied,” Clarke said. “For some, being outside the school and outside their usual social network is life altering.Very often, students are the only young people at their workplace and leads them to be more mature when they are in the workplace.”

PECI senior student Vanessa Willis is currently on Co-op placement at Sophiasburgh Central School said she was taking in the session to get advice on how to advance her career as well as obtain some leads on summer employment in the food service industry.

Willis met with representatives from the The Hub Child and Family Centre as she is looking to enter early child and youth education and she believed communication was flowing in both directions.

“We are really looking for that advice employers have for young workers just starting out,” Willis said “ At the same time, I think students are communicating to them how we feel as young workers and they may not always understand how we think or some of the challenges we are facing everyday.”

Local employer Scott Wolcott said the session was a real eye opener for him and his staff-in a good way.

“It’s been a lot of fun and it’s a rare circumstance where there are no boundries, Wolcott said.

As an employer of several people at the Picton Harbour Inn and West Lake Willows Camping Resort, Wolcott said he encourages communication with all his employees but the nature of the employer-employee relationship isn’t always conducive to speaking openly.

“Here we are speaking with young that are employed but not necessarily with you and I feel I’m are getting an open dialogue and perspective that I wouldn’t get otherwise,” Wolcott said.

In terms of advice, Wolcott said being present and in the right frame of mind were key skills he was imparting to young workers.

“To me, the most important thing is attitude and it’s what life boils down to,” Wolcott said “We make a choice every morning to go to work with a smile and make the most of the day. The other thing is punctuality- people underestimate how valuable they are to a business, when they show up late or at all, it really throws a monkey wrench into the entire operation. Punctuality and attitude, if we have those, we can work around and through anything else.”

Thursday’s session was sponsored by the County of Prince Edward who donated the space and County Community Foundation who provided meals for the attendees.