It’s amazing what a roll of tinfoil and a bucket of golf balls can do to spark kids’ interest.
Seventh-graders from Greenville and Hortonville middle schools gathered for a career fair that featured activities including fashioning a boat out of tinfoil and seeing how many golf balls it would hold before sinking and building a construction paper bridge and testing its weight-bearing capabilities. Judging by the smiles and looks of determination on the kids’ faces, it was a success.
Middle and high school career fairs have become ubiquitous in the region since the implementation of state-mandated academic and career planning in 2017. Those are terrific, says Travis Lawrence, principal of Greenville Middle School, but organizers of this event wanted to take the concept a step further and provide kids a way to make deeper connections and experience careers on a hands-on level.
Lawrence was one educator who attended a NEW Manufacturing Alliance meeting focused on academic and career planning and how the organization and schools could better meet industry needs. Manufacturing leaders made their voices heard: They wanted kids to get acquainted with careers in a more hands-on way.
“We really wanted them to do something and see what kinds of things are possible,” NEWMA Director Ann Franz, says.
Thus, the You Can Make It in Northeast Wisconsin career fair was born.
Held at Greenville Middle School in April, the event brought together students and 19 companies, including two higher education institutions. Prior to the career fair, seventh-graders spent time in class researching the companies and selecting three they wanted to connect with.
At each station, kids learned more about the company and participated in a learning activity. It was all designed to plant seeds and create excitement and awareness, Lawrence says.
“The opportunities that exist in our own backyard are phenomenal,” he says. “It’s a nice way to show kids, too, that it doesn’t have to be a four-year degree. You can go into it and make a fantastic living, and they’re very important jobs, and there’s a need for them.”
The event doubled as a career fair for parents, where in the evening, they could come to the school and see what their kids built and learn about job opportunities for themselves. Reaching parents and showing them the real jobs connected to the learning is vital, Franz says.
At the Great Northern Corp. station, participants took a virtual tour of the company’s facilities and then applied math skills in a real-world way by building boxes. Lauren Basler, a recruiter for the company, says GNC has been making a concerted effort to get out into the community more to connect with the coming generation of workers.
GNC is especially seeking electromechanical and maintenance technicians, and Basler says the fair provided an opportunity to show kids they have many pathways available to them on the way to career success.
Lori Rausch, a human resources manager for GNC, came with her own objective: knocking down stereotypes about manufacturing jobs.
“It isn’t just back in the day where you worked assembly line and got all dirty and worked in a hot mill,” she says. “We have evolved. A lot of it is computerized, and you really can work your way into upper management positions if you want to. If you don’t, that’s great, you can still grow in your role and get extra responsibilities.” Φ