Cincinnati Public Schools’ students had a lot of legwork to do before attending a Career Expo recently, as traditional roles were reversed and students became the interviewers.
In addition to researching several career options ahead of time, each student came prepared with individualized business cards, a resume, a personal 30-second marketing speech and informed questions.
More than 900 Cincinnati Public Schools’ 11th-graders participated in this Second Annual Business-Education Connectivity Council (BECC) Career Expo on October 28, 2016, at Xavier University’s Cintas Center.
The BECC event flips the typical career expo format, with students interviewing employees from local businesses about their careers and educational journeys.
The aim is to help students connect their interests and passions with real career opportunities — and to help shape the region’s future workforce.
“The strength of this is, this is not just hypothetical,” said Stephen Sippel, principal of Dater High School. “These are real opportunities finding their way into students’ lives.”
That proved to be the case for Kimora Flowers, now a Dater senior. The aspiring pediatrician met Dr. Ray Bignall at the first BECC Career Expo in November 2015. The Cincinnati Children’s Hospital nephrology fellow now is a mentor to Flowers as she plans for her future in medicine.
Both Cincinnati Public Schools and the BECC worked to build on that success this year. The Expo was expanded from 30 businesses to 48 businesses, nonprofits, trade organizations and government agencies. Last year, three CPS high schools participated; this year, eight high schools took part. Universities and trade schools were also added to the lineup.
The Career Expo is part of CPS’ Career and Workforce Readiness Program. Developed in partnership with the BECC, the program provides 11th-grade students with real-world career-readiness activities throughout the school year. The program aligns with the My Tomorrow initiative, CPS’ visionary goal to ensure that all students graduate high school ready to pursue career paths of their choice.
Feedback from the students who participated in the Career Expo last year helped inform the expansion this year, according to Dr. Jill Hollander, CPS Curriculum Manager, Career-Based Learning, 7-12 Advisory & Business Partnerships.
“Our outreach to businesses and other organizations was based on student surveys from last year,” Hollander said. “Students expressed interest in the trades and careers they could explore with credentials. We wanted to be reflective of what our students’ interests are, and we also wanted to make sure we represented the 16 nationally recognized career clusters so students could get a better sense of the range of careers available to them.”
Members of the BECC also emphasized the benefits of expanding the program.
“The expansion was very important, providing us with an opportunity to expose more students to future pathways,” said Jane Keller, a member of the BECC. “Last year’s participating organizations were overwhelmingly positive about how well prepared students were and the questions they asked.”
And, the adults noticed again this year the amount of advance prep work accomplished by the students. Dawn Dearwester, executive director of Empire Beauty Schools, had initially planned on staying only for the Expo’s first half; she ended up being impressed enough to cancel her afternoon plans so she could stay at the event.
“The students have been wonderful and so filled with energy,” Dearwester said. “We are so thrilled by the business cards.”
Many of the students expressed surprise at the wealth of options available to them.
Dater 11th-grader Kaylen Watkins is interested in becoming a lawyer or a nurse. At the Expo, she learned there are avenues for both professions at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
“I was surprised by how law gets involved with different situations,” she said. “I now have a lot of different perspectives on what I can do.”
Jameel Jarmon, an 11th-grader at Aiken High School, said he was motivated by the interest the Expo participants showed in the students.
“The experience was great, because you learn about all of the different opportunities each of these companies has,” he said. “It shows us what they have and what the necessary steps are for us to take to get there, and they are providing us with resources and contacts to keep in touch with them.”
The participating organizations, in turn, are investing in future recruitment, particularly in fields that are facing a tremendous loss of skills as the baby-boom generation retires.
“There’s going to be a huge gap in skilled labor,” said Chris Fridel, assistant director at the Electrical Training Center, who was there to talk to students about earn-and-learn opportunities. “We need to recruit the next generation of skilled craftsmen and promote apprenticeships.”
Doug Adams, chairperson of the BECC, said it comes down to exposing students to different career options.
“This is how we build the workforce of tomorrow, by providing opportunities that students didn’t know were available to them,” said Adams. “If we can bring these opportunities for kids to see in one place in one day, it could impact their futures forever.”