By Scott Roberston
Working under the name CareerQuest, the First Tennessee Development District will bring 5,000 students in grades 8-12 from nine Northeast Tennessee counties and Bristol, Va., to a massive career fair March 21-22 in the Minidome on the campus of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.
The district’s director of Workforce Initiatives, Lottie Ryans, attended a similar event attended by 9,000 students in Michigan last year. “I had representation from NN Inc., Mountain States and the Washington County Economic Development Council with me. We all walked in, saw what was happening and said, ‘This has got to come to our region.’”
The idea behind the event, Ryans said, is to introduce students who have limited knowledge of what careers are available to them in the region to the businesses and industries that need employees. “If anything,” Ryans said, “many students have misconceptions. They may think manufacturing is dark, dingy and dirty. They might think they want to work in health care, only to find that the sight of blood bothers them. This event gives students the opportunity to interact with the people who do the work. It also gives that opportunity to teachers and counselors who may not realize what’s available to their students. And it gives everyone the opportunity to start talking about issues like work ethic.”
Among the first businesses to sign up to take part in the event was Wellmont Health System. Senior Vice President of Human Resources Hamlin Wilson said, “We’ve very excited to provide an experiential learning opportunity for students in our region about healthcare jobs – hands on experiences. We will have a simulated sleep lab for instance, where students will be able to actually place electrode terminals and see the EEG, EKG and EOG readings.”
Wellmont isn’t just entertaining students for a day, though. By taking part in CareerQuest, the company is seeing to its own long-term growth. “We in health care have to work very hard to attract a sufficient pool of energized, interested, competent new employees into our field,” Wilson said. “Students are making early decisions about their careers while they’re in high school. If we can interest them in health care in general, we’re on the right road.”
Among the experiences students will have in that sector will be fall-protection, as well as interactive small high tech equipment demonstrations. “We hope to have 10-12 stations operating with multiple people,” Burleson said.
One of the keys to long-term success for the CareerQuest event is to insure that it’s not just a one-time flash-in-the-pan experience, but is woven into a fabric of other opportunities to help students enter the workforce in a way that’s advantageous not only to them, but to the business community.
“We want to create a continuum of opportunity and experience for our students and business partners,” Ryans said. “CareerQuest represents the exploration side, where we really begin to start the conversation about the opportunities available to them. With our Pathways program, which is still in its infancy, we want to talk about what programs are available at the high school and post-secondary level, and do those meet the needs of business? Another thing we’re working on is Work Ready Communities, and there is a high school component of that. Additionally, we’re working on the Work Ready Diploma, which should be available to the senior class beginning in 2018. So we go from informing to equipping.”