SIDNEY — Nearly 1,000 Shelby County students explored various career options Thursday and Friday, Sept. 23 and 24, at the 2021 Career Exploration Academy. The event was held by Workforce Partnership of Shelby County and Shelby County United Way at the Shelby County Fairgrounds.
The purpose of the Career Exploration Academy was to “expose Shelby County students to local companies at a young age and make them aware of career opportunities after graduation from high school or college,” said Deb McDermott, Workforce Partnership of Shelby County executive director.
High school seniors down to eighth-graders from all public and private Shelby County school districts were given the opportunity to experience various skills through interactive demonstrations and to meet members of local employers. Upper Valley Career Center (UVCC) also had a booth at the event to get young people prior to their sophomore year thinking about things they could study in the skilled trades during their junior and senior years of high school.
The two-day event began with the lively student welcome of Tony Trapp, Upper Valley Career Center school to school apprentice coordinator. He encouraged students to recognize they have an upcoming “diploma dilemma” and not just look at the time there as simply a day off of school.
“What is a diploma dilemma?” Trapp asked the students gathered on bleachers outdoors Thursday morning in the Kent Arena Livestock area of the fairgrounds. “When you get that diploma, or even before you get that diploma, you need to start thinking about, ‘Am I going to go off to a four-year college? Am I am going to go off to a two-year college? Am I going to go to a technical school? Am I going to go to the career center? Am I going to go right into the workforce? Am I going to go into the military?’ Those things are important to start thinking about now. So think about that diploma dilemma as the day goes on.
“You have been going to school for the last almost 13 years, and (after graduation) what are you going to be doing for the next 45 years of your life? You are going in the workforce,” Trapp said to students before they began exploring. “Take this opportunity to not find a job, but a career.”
“There is a lot of opportunity here in Shelby County,” said Kelly Edwards, Workforce Partnership coach,” We are trying to get them to start thinking about the ‘three Es.’ Technically they could be all three. (They) need to make a decision, are you going to ‘Enroll’ to college; it could be a four-year, or it could be a two-year, or at a technical school in some kind of program to get skills. Or ‘Enlistment’ into the military. And then ‘Employment,’ so you could directly enter the workforce at graduation.
“So, I am specifically there as a resource for high schoolers at their E, if they’re thinking their E is employment. I want to meet with them and talk with them about the various job opportunities in Shelby County. And hopefully pair their interest with their career goals with job opportunities right here,” Edwards continued, whose job was created to provide a bridge for students looking to get a job right after graduation, and to help school administrators and councilors.
On display Thursday and Friday, were 29 career booths, varying from construction, skilled trades, manufacturing, healthcare, business, and public service careers. Employees of the participating businesses explained what their company does or makes by showing their products and tools used in their professions. Many booth presentations included videos, pictures and interactive activities for the students to get a better idea of what the company and its employees do.
“It sounds fun to do this stuff,” said Sidney Middle School (SMS) eighth-grader Allen Harris, 14, who is the son of Michelle Sowders. “I liked the construction (exhibits).”
He and SMS classmate Mackenzi Koester, 13, daughter of Ashley and Nick Koester, both made metal tool boxes at the Slagle Mechanical Contractors booth.
Mackenzi said, “I liked the UVCC and the Slagle (booths),” while showing off her newly constructed tool box. Neither student had previously taken a class that taught them how to make a metal project and both said it was a “fun” afternoon.
Along with Slagle Mechanical Contractors, Ferguson Construction Company and Wells Brothers Inc. also provided opportunities for students to get a hands-on feel for the jobs offered. Wells Brothers worked with interested students to construct a total of 14 wood benches during the two day event. The benches were to be donated to each of the event’s participating schools, as well as to UVCC.
Most of the employers who participated in the event, Edwards said, provides hands-0n training and some offer tuition reimbursement for employees studying something pertaining to their business.
Wells Brothers and its sister company Panel Control Inc. (PCI) both have hands-on training programs for those with no prior experience. They also offer a tuition reimbursement program.
Natalie Plate, Wells Brothers/PCI HR director, said, “We have a tremendous training and tuition reimbursement program. They can become pipe fitters, plumbers. We have electricians, wielders H-VAC, construction. We have it all. We try to base a (potential employee’s) job on what they want to do. We do a lot of cross-training.”
Ferguson Construction highlighted their various trades and engaged with students in hands-on projects to show what they typically do in a day in carpentry, brick laying, iron work and equipment operation. They also had their ninja competition board set up to allow students to practice using drills, hammers, measuring, etc.
Tom Bergman, Ferguson Construction HR manager, manager said, “If they don’t know what they like or want to do, or if a trade isn’t the right fit, we move them to another trade. We give them the chance to do a lot of different things.”
Bergman said interested employees just have to contact their office and they will help them get started — without any previous experience or family history in the business. He also noted they are beginning to see more women enter the skilled trades than in previous times.
Also at the event were manufacturers, Wilson Health and booths promoting jobs for the city of Sidney.
Sidney Fire Department Lt. Greg Francis explained to students the various responsibilities of members of the Sidney Department of Fire and Emergency Services. He demonstrated how to intubate a person who stopped breathing on the department’s manikin head, explaining sometimes paramedics have to lay on their stomach to be able to insert a tube in someone on the ground. Firefighters also showed students a ladder truck, an ambulance, fire vehicle and fire/EMS gear and other tools. Students learned about the quick, in-the-moment decisions personnel must make, and the stamina needed to be a firefighter.
“Going into a fire, I would say, is like going into a boxing match; that’s how quickly it can wear you out to fight a fire. That’s why it is important to stay in shape,” Francis told the students.
He said the job lends itself well to student athletes, saying firefighters are basically athletes. They must be team-players, and physically fit to be able to fight fires for long periods of time.
Sidney Police Community Service Officer Bryant Stewart spoke to students how to become a police officer. He talked to them about the city’s student police academy and public safety cadet program. He also showed students a police cruiser and SWAT vehicle, along with police and SWAT tools and gear.
“Our police department is like a family and the fire department is our other family,” Stewart said explained the benefits of becoming an officer and the importance of staying in shape to do the job well.
Numerous other Shelby County employers drew students in explaining how their products served the community and gave away goodies they make or snacks to enjoy. At the close of the event, United Way Executive Director Scott Barr urged students to develop a plan before leaving school after graduation and to consider which of the three “Es” applies to them.
“The finish line is not graduation, it’s a career,” Barr said.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.