Fox Cities students get future-focused

Two-day Fox Cities Chamber event draws thousands from middle and high schools

Jessica Thiel
Posted by of Insight Publications

For the past several years, the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce has connected more than 2,000 eighth-graders with employers spanning many industries at Lake Park Sportzone in Menasha. This year, the event got a new venue and an expanded focus.

Held at the Fox Cities Exhibition Center March 14-15, the first day of Your Future Live still acquainted eighth-graders from 20 schools with the multitude of career options available to them, but the second day brought high school students for a conference-like event designed to get them thinking about next steps.

The changes stemmed from discussions held soon after last spring’s event. Organizers and schools wanted to enhance the event to do something en masse that would help all parties, says Patty Milka, vice president of talent and education for the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce.

Both days included seven career cluster zones featuring 72 employers. For the middle schoolers, it was more about increasing awareness, piquing interest and encouraging thoughtful class scheduling leading into high school. For those already in high school, the day included chances to explore higher learning institutions and make some more concrete connections for opportunities such as job shadows.

“We want everyone to have that aha moment,” Milka says.

Andy Kneisler, project manager/supervisor for Fox Cities Builders, represented his company at the event to reach out to the future workforce and educate them about construction career opportunities. The company created four hands-on activities, including a nailing competition and concrete finishing.

“You can make a good living off it, and you don’t necessarily have to go to a four-year school to do it,” he says. “You could learn on the job and make money doing it.”

Air Wisconsin Airlines teamed with Appleton International Airport to offer a booth teaching kids about opportunities in the airline industry. Ashley Schertz, human resources administrator for Air Wisconsin, says there’s a great need for pilots and mechanics, especially, with airlines often offering bonuses.

“I don’t think kids necessarily understand what’s all involved with an airline,” she says.

Trevor Vanwychen, a junior at Freedom High School, attended wanting to learn more about mechanic and automotive opportunities. “Ever since I was young, I liked working with my hands and fixing things, so it kind of just drew me in.”

Vanwychen works at the Bergstrom Express Lube right now and would like to become a mechanic. He connected with colleges, including Fox Valley Technical College and Universal Technical Institute.

Erin Witt, also a junior at Freedom High School, was surprised to see the number of career opportunities available. She dreams of becoming an obstetrician-gynecologist and is looking at educational pathways. She appreciated connecting with skilled nursing care facility Manor Care, which offers a hospitality aide position. Witt says it could provide a good opportunity until she can become a certified nursing assistant when she gets a little older.

That interest is good news for Michele Kolasinski, human resources director at Manor Care, who says the facility is always seeking nurses and CNAs. She wanted to educate about skilled nursing facilities and show that clinics and hospitals aren’t the only options for those interested in health care careers.

“In a long-term care facility, a lot of the rewarding things are getting to be with that person every day, watching them progress,” says Maggie Alba-Zielinski, a nurse who talked with kids in the Manor Care booth. “I spend more time with them than a lot of their family does, so they really develop a bond and a level of trust.”