Expanding visibility into career opportunities for students in Southern Virginia
Students in Southern Virginia are often unaware of the career opportunities in their region, and thus end up moving elsewhere or being unclear on the path to their desired job. Local organizations saw the need to build an employment pipeline and to facilitate career readiness, learning opportunities, and economic development.
Igniting students’ imaginations around career aspirations
In 2018, Microsoft contributed $5,000 towards the fifth annual Southern Virginia Career ChoICE Youth Expo, put on by the Institute for Advanced Learning & Research (IALR). Microsoft continued their commitment in 2019, and was present at the event during both years. Modeled after Southwest Alabama’s Worlds of Opportunity event first held in Mobile, Alabama in 2013, the Career ChoICE event invites employers from across the region to an event attended by over 4,000 students in seventh through tenth grades. In 2019, this included students from 31 schools, who were led through 78 hands-on activities presented by 55 local employers, including Microsoft. These employers represented all 16 Virginia Department of Education career clusters.
The Expo starts with a night program that’s open to the public; this kick-off facilitates conversations among employers, area colleges, and community members, including teachers, students, and parents. The evening event gives employers an additional avenue to engage parents and students of various ages that may not attend the subsequent Expo happenings. “This event is absolutely free, open to the public, and includes the opportunity to win prize drawings. Plus, local colleges, schools, and organizations will be on site to share helpful resources for attaining the education necessary for career choices,” said Dr. Julie Brown of IALR. This night program is followed by two Student Days, with regional schools attending at scheduled times. The main purpose of this event is to challenge students to explore their talents and to understand the breadth of available careers in the region.
Partnering with local organizations to demonstrate career pathways
As “a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” IALR hopes to act as a catalyst to transform and diversify the economy in Southern Virginia through advanced learning, applied research, economic development, and more. According to Dr. Brown, “Many of our young people may not know about the businesses that are in our area, so this is an opportunity for them, to expose them to some of the career opportunities that are available.” Dr. Brown further explains that the goal of Career ChoICE “is to have students making informed decisions about what classes and extracurricular[s] they should pursue to position themselves well for future employment and to show students that they don’t have to leave the region to find that employment.”
Attending students are provided with a program to guide them through the Expo. Students are prompted to consider their interests and talents and then discuss career opportunities with employers at the event. Various career pathways are presented, and valuable soft skills are discussed, including active listening, critical thinking, and reading comprehension. Students are given an overview of how total compensation works and a list of important benefit questions to ask of employers, many of which are often overlooked. Sabrina Sleeper, of Expo participant Blair Construction, says, “I thought the career expo was an exciting and high energy event for the students and crews. This event is a good step in resolving the disconnect between regimented academic programs and the reality of finding a suitable career and being employable.”
Exposing students to hands-on activities
In addition to facilitating discussions and providing resources for students, the event gives attendees the opportunity to participate in hands-on activities. Some of these include flying drones and burying utility poles with utilities companies, practicing CPR and mock intubation with healthcare organizations, simulating welding with local trade companies, and seeing a mobile milking machine courtesy of a dairy farm.
Microsoft and Walbridge Construction, general contractor for Boydton, partnered to bring a unique experience to the Expo. Their adjacent booths provided a great opportunity to collaborate while inspiring the youth to consider careers in technology and the trades. Members of the Boydton Datacenter Operations team engaged students with fun questions about technology, Microsoft, and hardware identification. Walbridge delighted students with a variety of hands on interactive activities that included a HoloLens demo featuring the Boydton site.
Through exposure to a wide array of industries and careers, students are inspired to pursue opportunities within the region and ensure continued local economic development.
“This event is a good step in resolving the disconnect between regimented academic programs and the reality of finding a suitable career and being employable.”—Sabrina Sleeper, Blair Construction (Expo participant)