Tessy Henderson remembers seeing firetrucks and ambulances, linemen and utility companies and many other career opportunities while attending the Career ChoICE Youth Expo as a ninth grader. And she remembers the welding simulator.
That was five years ago. A 2022 Halifax County High School graduate, Henderson now does welding work for Hitachi Energy in South Boston. And this year, she got to return to the Career ChoICE Youth Expo with Hitachi, using the welding simulator to show students the basic welding concepts.
“It’s really a full-circle moment. It’s crazy being behind the table this time instead of in front of the table,” Henderson said.
The 2023 Career ChoICE Youth Expo events – hosted at the Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex in Chatham and Hampden-Sydney College in Farmville – allowed 4,027 middle and high students to connect with employers and learn about career pathways and employment opportunities in their region. Over its 10-year history, 36,710 students have participated, allowing local employers to inspire and educate the next generation and helping students understand the opportunities available to them.
“This is an opportunity to connect our young people with all the great career pathways available to them in Southern Virginia. Employers have a chance to meet their emerging workforce and talk to them about their careers.” — Dr. Julie Brown, Vice President of Advanced Learning, IALR
The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR) serves as the primary organizer, working closely with participating school divisions, employers and volunteers to bring the event to life. The event is funded by sponsorships from local businesses and organizations in the community, including platinum sponsors PATHS, IALR, the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, JT-Minnie Maude Charitable Trust, Goodyear, the Great Opportunities in Technology and Engineering Careers (GO TEC™) program and Sovah Health.
|3,200 students from the following school divisions attended the Career Expo West event at the Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex: Danville, Halifax, Henry, Martinsville, Patrick and Pittsylvania.||827 students from the following school divisions attended the Career Expo East event at Hampden-Sydney College in Farmville: Cumberland, Charlotte, Lunenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward Counties.||In total, regional employers, organizations, educational institutions and businesses managed 95 activity stations to introduce students to career opportunities and pathways.|
The Career ChoICE Event
Through the Career ChoICE Youth Expo, students IMAGINE their potential, CONNECT with employers and EXPLORE career possibilities. Career ChoICE connects students to regional employment information and employers through hands-on activities, a comprehensive printed career guide customized for the region, and virtual resources.
“The event’s goal is for students to learn about different organizations and employers in the region and what job opportunities are like here in Southern Virginia. We also help students make informed decisions about what steps they would need to take to attain that career.” — Jessie Vernon, Advanced Learning Program Manager, IALR
The event format is simple: there are several zones, each of which is filled with employers administering hands-on activities. The students work their way through each zone, interacting with the employers of their choice. Activities range from virtual reality simulations to actual “hands-on” demonstrations and tests to spin-the-wheel style games.
“The employers are doing something that’s a hands-on, brief snapshot of what it’s like to be in their field. Rather than handing them a pamphlet, we really want the students to engage with the employers and ask questions.” — Jessie Vernon, Advanced Learning Program Manager, IALR
In addition to the time spent at the Expo, students receive an extensive booklet packed with resources like career assessments, questions to ask employers and consider when evaluating employment opportunities, career readiness skills to develop, profiles of young professionals in the community and much more.
There Are Local Career and Workforce Development Options
The Career ChoICE Youth Expo events do more than just inspire and introduce students to possible careers. The events showcase the diversity and quality of career opportunities in Southern Virginia – and help students understand how to get there. This event – along with many other programs administered by IALR’s Advanced Learning Division – forms a pipeline of students in strategic sectors that are aligned with economic development interests.
At the Career Expo West event in Chatham, there were approximately 70 different stations representing the Virginia Department of Education’s 17 different career clusters, including disciplines like STEM, business management and administration, energy, government, health sciences, law and public safety, manufacturing, transportation and logistics, and many others.
“We want students to have a greater awareness of what career opportunities are available right here in Southern Virginia. Through the Career ChoICE Youth Expo events, students learn about high-quality career options right here in their community. What’s better than reading about it or hearing about it from a friend, they actually experience something memorable.” — Telly Tucker, IALR President
But it’s not just employers doing the inspiring. Various educational institutions (including four-year colleges and universities, higher education institutions and workforce training programs) highlight the wide-ranging educational pathways for students. Students engaged with representatives from the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, the Sovah School of Health, Danville Community College, Averett University and Patrick & Henry Community College, among others.
Multiple representatives participated on behalf of the Accelerated Training in Defense Manufacturing (ATDM) program – a rapid training program at IALR.
“It’s exciting to expose students to the world of manufacturing and help them choose that path,” said CNC Machining Instructor Justin Owen.
Inspiring and Connecting with Future Talent
“I want to do that when I grow up,” a middle school student exclaimed after experimenting with a CNC machine Danville Community College staff operated. I’m doing this when I grow up,” he repeated.
Joseph Distad, an Assistant Professor of Precision Machining Technology at Danville Community College who had been explaining the machine’s functions to the student, could not help but smile.
“The whole goal of the Expo is to inspire students, to capture their imaginations and show them potential careers. In many instances at the Expo, you can see that inspiration and imagination happening in real time – a truly rewarding experience.” — Joseph Distad, Assistant Professor of Precision Machining Technology at Danville Community College
Shelby Irving, Fire Marshal with the Danville Fire Department, spent the two days at the Olde Dominion Agricultural Complex letting students try on turnout gear while teaching them about careers in firefighting.
“Over the years, we’ve gotten kids from the career expo that went on to be firefighters with the city,” Irving said.