For the past seven (7) years, the Madison-Bond Workforce Investment Board’s Youth Council has co-sponsored a career fair event entitled “Career Days” with one or two local school districts. It all started with a passionate discussion at a 2006 quarterly WIB meeting about the need to educate students on how to make the right career choices. From there, the determination grew so strong among the members to make something happen that a decision was made to approach a local high school about piloting a first career fair event at their school. This first year, a simple career fair format was successfully implemented with seniors from the school district. But much was learned by the WIB from this experience, which identified the need for more intense planning.
At this point you might ask, what is so innovative about co-sponsoring a career fair at a local high school? Career fairs are done all the time! Here is the difference: As a result of the first year’s event, an important need was realized. There seemed to be an essential and distinct need to help a school district create an actual model that they could replicate on their own with less work in years to come. The Madison-Bond WIB charged their Youth Council with the task of figuring out the hows, whens and wheres. The Youth Council recognized the work crunch and overload that school staff feel every day, and knew that much of the time the reason career fairs are not more prevalent in high schools and middle schools is because staff simply do not have enough time to plan these events. The task seems overwhelming to them. To overcome this difficult obstacle, during the second year, the Youth Council appointed a youth planning committee to take on as much of the burden in the planning and execution as needed as they approached their second school district.
The second year of planning went something like this. Dr. Robert Daiber, Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools and WIB member, contacted the schools selected for an initial meeting. The first reaction to his phone call was enthusiasm but concern as to how the school staff will be able to complete such a monumental task with such little time and resources. That is where the youth council planning committee came in. The youth planning committee worked with the school staff to come up with a date, a logistics plan and an agenda for the event. A career clusters interest survey was given to the students, and the results were compiled by Madison-Bond Counties WIA staff. The youth council planning committee reconvened with school staff and, based on survey results, decided together how many speakers/presenters and the type of occupations were needed and desired. The youth council members took on the task of securing most or all the speakers for the event, and the school staff was charged with creating student schedules. This first career day was a dress rehearsal of sorts and from there, improvements were made based on feedback from speakers, students, youth council members and school staff. Once the model was tried and success was satisfactory, the school staff gained confidence that they can now host their own Career Days and go solo.
Each year since, a different high school and/or middle school is approached, and a Career Days model is created unique to the individual school and their needs using basically the process just described. Approximately 200-1000 students and 20-60 local and regional employers participate at each Career Day event, depending on the size and needs of the school. Presenters typically talk about their own occupations during 3-6 breakout sessions with anywhere from 10-50 students per session. Most sessions are hands on and interactive. Presenters dress as they would on the job and bring their tools of the trade, and sometimes enhance their presentations with power point slides, photos and examples of work. A master list of the speakers attending is shared with the school for future events if the school makes the request. Their Career Day model is now complete and school staff are armed with the tools to tweak and continue Career Days on their own.
Positive impact is experienced by students, school staff and even presenters. Large St. Louis area companies such as Boeing, Monsanto and Ameren participate year after year alongside local businesses and organizations. Students and school staff are given the opportunity to learn about non-traditional, high growth and some little known occupations in addition to the more traditional jobs. Careers represent many walks of life and require a diversity of training and educational requirements from technical training to high level degrees.
Connecting business and education is integral to the Madison-Bond Workforce Investment Board’s mission, and what better way to do this than to bring the employers to the students while they are still trying to figure out what career path is right for them. Attestation from both middle school and high school students over the years indicate that Career Days influenced and sometimes changed their future career plans.
This year marks the eighth (8th) year for Career Days, and the Madison–Bond Youth Council have begun planning sessions with their 12th school district. In 2016, the Madison-Bond WIB and Youth Council will hopefully complete their ultimate goal: to successfully complete a unique Career Day model in ALL 13 school districts within the two county area. The success of Career Days speaks for itself, as 9 of 11 school districts thus far have either continued with or have plans to solo with Career Days using their own unique models. The Madison-Bond Career Days initiative is a diligent and detailed project that has taken years in the making, but will hopefully continue for many years to come.