Junior Achievement of North Central Ohio is planning its first-ever virtual career exploration fair, meant to offer area seventh- through 12th-graders a chance to explore potential careers and connect with local employers.
"This year in particular, everybody is just kind of getting through today," JA President Lori McCleese said. "Kids are not talking, thinking about the future. That's why we're really excited to be able to launch this."
The event, dubbed the Virtual Inspire Career Exploration Fair and slated for March 10, already has attracted 11,538 Ohio students (more than 1,400 from Wayne County and nearly 490 from Ashland County), along with 20 area companies.
Orrville City Schools, Southeast Local Schools and Wooster City Schools are participating.
JA typically reaches the most students in Summit, Stark and Wayne counties. Schools from Coshocton, Crawford and Morrow counties also are signed up for the career fair.
The organization, which is global but has 109 chapters in the United States, wants students to "own their economic success," McCleese said.
Traditionally, the JA team trains volunteers from area businesses – Seaman Corporation and United Titanium in Wooster, and Wells Fargo in Canton, for example. Volunteers present curriculum and career stories to K-12 students, based on JA's three pillars: financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship.
"By having someone come in from the outside and teach that, it let's them put their own spin on it and inject their personal and professional experience into the lessons for the kids," McCleese said.
Presentations have been virtual this year, as many schools aren't allowing visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. JA also designed teacher-led curriculum and self-guided work for students.
JA heard from corporate partners, and many echoed similar concerns: They are struggling to fill positions, McCleese said. The reasons varied. Sometimes they could not find candidates with the right interpersonal skills, or perhaps they didn't have the proper education or training, she said.
So the Virtual Inspire Career Exploration Fair was born. JA sees it as a chance for young people to learn about careers they could build in Northeast Ohio and the surrounding area, the president said.
The career fair will be on-demand rather than live, in order to give students enough time to visit with multiple agencies and companies that align with their interests, McCleese explained.
Students will be given a five-lesson curriculum to complete before the event, which will focus on topics such as career clusters, how to network and interviewing. Then they will map out which companies they want to visit March 10. Businesses and companies will have booths set up with informational materials and videos.
"After the event, our hope is to connect a percentage of the students to job shadows, internships, apprenticeships," McCleese said. "If a company says, 'We would love to have 20 kids in for a job shadow,' and we have students who express interest, our goal is to connect them."
There also will be a college corner for community colleges and universities.
JA is hoping to get more companies on board in order to offer a wide variety of careers for students to explore. Farmers National Bank, which has several locations in Wayne County, has signed on, McCleese said.
She said partners, such as the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce and Strengthening Stark, have offered a helping hand in recruiting companies.
Team NEO, a business and economic development organization focused on economic growth in Northeast Ohio, has worked alongside JA of Greater Cleveland for the last 2 1/2 years, said Jacob Duritsky, vice president of strategy and research.
The organization recently released its Aligning Opportunities Report for 2020, which looks at in-demand jobs and credentials coming from area colleges, technical schools and universities. The research allows Team NEO to "inform the conversations of partners in the community and spread that to a younger audience," at an event like the career fair, Duritsky said.
In Northeast Ohio, the most in-demand field is information technology, meaning jobs such as software developers and computer support specialists, Duritsky said. Just behind IT careers is health care, manufacturing and overall business degrees.
"There were more than 60,000 job openings in those areas last year," in Northeast Ohio, he said.
Duritsky is hopeful the information Team NEO has to share with students will give them ideas of how to combine their passions with career fields that are thriving.
Rich Leone, director of secondary education at Wooster City Schools, said the work JA does for the community is "beneficial for our kids to learn good financial habits."
The virtual career fair is an example of "thinking creatively during a pandemic," and still prioritizing students' futures, he said.
"This is a good way to expose them to things they may not be aware of," he said. "It could get them interested in an avenue they weren't considering."
To learn more about the Virtual Inspire Career Exploration Fair, contact Josh Lehman at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 330-433-0063, Ext. 113.
Reach Valerie Royzman at email@example.com.