Two weeks ago we held a career fair at my school. Now this wasn’t your typical high school career fair for students looking for summer/part-time work. This also wasn’t a career fair for senior students about to graduate and enter the work force. This was a career fair for freshman students. Students who have little to no idea what they want to do, and have barely begun to think about college let alone a career. Where other schools may see no point in holding a career fair for the students furthest away from the workforce, I say there is no one who needs a career fair more.
One of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “begin with the end in mind.” In my experience, education and educators often begin with the process in mind rather than the end goal. For example, we stress the importance of passing a class and graduating high school. We stress taking AP exams and going to college. None of these things, however, are an end goal they are simply steps towards a goal. Education is preparing students to be productive members of society and lead a fulfilling career. If that is our goal, why don’t we begin with the career in mind?
The freshmen who attend our career fair are exposed to hundreds of unique careers. Careers that many of the students would never have known existed. The career fair is formatted in such a way that students get to attend two panel presentations and an open vendor fair. The panels are divided into the sixteen career clusters, with 3-4 speakers per panel. Students may have an interest in the medical field but don’t want to commit to being a doctor. By attending the medical panel, they are exposed to other careers related to medicine but without the need for extended school that becoming a doctor requires. The same thing happens in each cluster panel; a student may come in with one career perception and leave with a dozen new ideas. During the vendor fair, students get a more hands on look at careers. Firefighters allow students to try on gear. Photographers show student how to operate telescoping lenses, marketers guide students as they set up a mock display.
What so great about the career fair isn’t even the career fair itself; it is the conversations that happen afterwards. For the next few weeks students are coming down to their counselor’s office to discuss what they learned and how their goals have changed because of the career fair. They begin to pick out new classes based on what electives will help them prepare for their future career. College conversations start to take shape based not on a universities name but on the strength of the program related to their career. Students begin to see the big picture.
For once, freshmen students don’t take the back burner to their upper classmen counterparts. For a day the school revolves around our youngest students and preparing them for their future.
Beyond the benefit to the students directly participating in the career fair, the day brings recognition to our school. No, the mayor doesn’t award us any accolades. The state board of education doesn’t declare us a model program. However, hundreds of community members & business professionals step into our school and get a glimpse of the amazing things happening here. That community exposure is something you can’t buy. If there is one thing schools need more of, it’s positive PR.
Maybe someday I’ll have the privilege to welcome back a former student to be a presenter at our career fair.