Finding a career
Worlds of Work expo brings students close to job options
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
Ashley De La Fuente, a sophomore at Success Academy, already knows the kind of career she wants to have after graduation.
Her choice is unequivocally welding. Her father, a contractor, was her first influence. Then, she had an up close look at what a welder could create and salary while attending the Worlds of Work job expos last Friday.
“I think it’s very interesting and fascinating how the torch works with different metals,” De La Fuente said after spending the early part of her day observing a welding setup on the grounds at Lively Technical College.
De La Fuente was among hundreds of high school students who participated in a the two-day North Florida Worlds of Work. Organizers said it’s intended to create an efficient workforce while developing a pipeline of talent and promoting access to training and employment opportunities.
In addition to Leon, students came from Gadsden, Jefferson and Wakulla counties. Students in 10th through 12th grades were first to meet the exhibitors last Thursday, when they were expected to attend with a parent or guardian. Freshmen attended the following day.
Worlds of Work has its roots in Alabama, where it started five years ago and has taken place in several cities in the state. It was on hiatus during the pandemic but returned last fall with 102 exhibitors and more than 4,000 students.
The expo is an interactive hands-on event that connects businesses with potential future employees while letting students know of high-paying jobs that are in high demand.
The wheels went into motion to create the North Florida Worlds of Work after a delegation from the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce attended last year event in Alabama, said Corrie Melton, vice president of membership and talent development with the Chamber.
CareerSource Capital Region, Lively Technical College, Tallahassee Community College, The Greater Tallahassee Chamber Of Commerce and The Tallahassee-Leon County Office of Economic Vitality collaborated to bring the event to Tallahassee.
“We want our students to know that there are good jobs in our region,” Melton said.
Not every student who attended is expected to stay in the area, but encouraging statistics say that most individuals in their mid-20s tend to live about 50 miles from where they grew up.
“We want our kids to stay here,” Melton said. “We think it’s a great place to be and a lot of these businesses are not ones that they’re going to know because they are not main brands. So this is a great way for them to get to know them.”
Most of the students know about careers in teaching and law enforcement. There are a lot more choices and students had a chance to see them with starting salaries on display boards around the campus.
“What we want to do here is bring all of these other options alive to them,” Melton said. “I tell the employers we are not here to hand out stuff and not engage. We want them to see what they would actually be doing; what kinds of careers there are.”
It didn’t take much for Leon County School to back Worlds of Work after seeing the success in manufacture-heavy Alabama, said Shane Syfrett, assistant superintendent for academic service with Leon County Schools.
There was no second-guessing, he said.
“We have to do this for our students because it opens up a whole world of new opportunities that they did not know existed,” Syfrett said.
More than 100 businesses made up the exhibitors at Lively Technical College. The production took more than 100 volunteers in various roles. Some worked as tour guides who helped to keep the students moving through the exhibitors.
Students were interacting around the campus with exhibitors that included welding, electrical, carpentry and air conditioning. Some of the others included diesel engine repair, healthcare and culinary.
Many of the exhibitors weren’t companies that offer the types of jobs that lead to high student debt after four years of college. Students could begin job prep while dual enrolled and get on-the-job training while in school to ready themselves for many of the careers that were on display.
Ryan Folden, a baking and pastry art instructor at Lively Technical College, took time to give demonstrations on how to make things like cookies and corn tortillas.
“Showing what we can do to food and getting that satisfaction is exhilarating to a degree,” Folden said. “There is more than just McDonald’s. They figure out how to make cookies from scratch. To see their minds explode with the creativity of certain things is really cool to witness.”
Some students like Amaya McKenzie said they are going into careers like cosmetic surgery. It doesn’t matter that the profession requires more than eight years of preparation, McKenzie said.
“I can make women’s body look like they want it,” said McKenzie, a sophomore at Success Academy.
Rosanne Wood, District 2 school board member, said she expects the expo to help students decide on a career before they graduate from high school.
“I am so excited about this,” she said. “Every year we have thousands of kids walk across the stage to graduate. The superintendent might say what’s next for you. Some of them say I’m going to Florida, I’m going to TCC, I’m going to FAMU, but a bunch of kids say I don’t know. That’s such a sad thing that kids don’t have an idea what they’re going to do next.
“This idea is that in the ninth grade you start getting some ideas and our counselors can guide them toward how they can dual enroll at Lively and by their senior year they can get an apprenticeship so that they have a clear path when they graduate and say I know what I’m going to do.”
Two days before the Worlds of Work event, college students got an opportunity to seek jobs through Career Connection, an event put on by TCC to help match students with potential employers.
Exhibitors included CVS, Florida Department of Management Services and Domi Station incubator.
IMS Business, an accounting firm and back office provider, was one of a few locally-owned businesses that took advantage of the recruiting opportunity. With fallout from the pandemic still affecting the workforce, there are plenty of jobs available, said Gregg Patterson, CEO of IMS Business.
“The baby boomers are retiring and a lot of the young kids are going into IT,” Patterson said. “But once they get into accounting they can do just about anything. It’s a very responsible job but it’s a very rewarding job.”
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