When it comes to career planning, it is best to get them when they’re young.
More than 2,000 Western Wisconsin high school juniors attended the annual Career Expo at the La Crosse Center on Thursday. During the event, students were able to visit more than 30 booths with presentations and information about potential careers, as well as participate in the Wisconsin Education Fair, which showcased representatives from more than 100 colleges and universities.
The focus on helping students plan for college and career has sharpened in recent years. Education experts have recommended K-12 schools do more to expose students to career planning earlier in high school or even middle school. New requirements went into effect this year in Wisconsin requiring schools to provide academic and career planning services to students in grades six through 12.
“This is more important now than even 10 years ago,” Western Technical College K-12 relations specialist Tyler Ludeking said. “The expo fits right into that requirement.”
At the expo, students attended a brief orientation before choosing between the career breakout sessions and the college fair. There were 17 career fields at the expo including, agri-business, arts and graphics, business, computer science, education, engineering, manufacturing, transportation and others.
Jessica Subach, a human resources manager for local McDonald’s franchisee Courtesy Corp., said the expo is a great way to let high school students know about what her company offers. A lot of high school students’ first jobs are in the fast-food sector, but the company also has openings for professionals looking to put a specialized or four-year degree to good use.
“I think sometimes people are unaware of the opportunities in Courtesy Corporation,” she said. “The expo lets me show the students the benefit of being here and teach them about the company.”
Getting students to think about their career options is especially important for in-demand fields, Western instructor Jason Lewis said. He has been teaching in the diesel and heavy equipment technician program at the college for more than a decade, and the industry is facing a severe shortage of skilled workers right now.
Due to retirements, there are more than 300 openings in the state for technicians, but only the capacity to graduate 100 or so skilled candidates each year. The expo gives Lewis and his colleagues in the program the opportunity to highlight the program and meet students interested in working in the skilled trades.
“We can show the career possibilities of a degree as well as the growth potential and earnings,” he said. “You can make $50,000 to $60,000 with a two-year degree.”
Jordyn Poad, a student success coach at Southwest Technical College, attended as part of the college fair. She said having a booth at the center helps connect her campus with interested students in the La Crosse region, as well as providing an opportunity to make personal connections and answer students’ questions.
“It is so important that we are here to do that,” she said. “A banner and a flyer in a guidance office can’t answer questions. We can have a more in-depth conversation with a prospective student.”