Local industries speak with area eighth grade students about careers at expo
By Wes Tomlinson
For the Enquirer
The eighth graders who attended a career expo Thursday won’t be in the workforce for a few years, but more than 50 businesses and industries took the opportunity to give them a preview of the many careers that will be available to them.
The Endless Opportunities Job Fair, a hands-on career expo hosted by the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, began Thursday at Ingalls Harbor Pavilion. Representatives of numerous companies answered questions and engaged with students about the specifics of their jobs. The expo Thursday was exclusively for Morgan County eighth graders, with a repeat of the event planned Friday hosting Limestone County eighth graders.
Fisher Nix, an eighth grade student at Hartselle Junior High School, was wearing a blue hat with the Cook’s Pest Control logo on it along with several of his classmates.
“Actually, I never thought about it before today, but I might look into Cook’s as a career,” he said.
The Madagascar hissing cockroaches and tarantula that Cook’s had on display at its booth got his interest, Nix said.
That was the point, said Jason Kiefer, the training supervisor for Cook’s Pest Control.
“It allows us to be able to interact with the kids and they get to see something they usually wouldn’t see on a normal basis,” he said.
Kiefer said he doesn’t believe a lot of students consider pest control as a viable career and events like the expo allow his team to explain to them the importance of the job.
“Just starting out as a technician, all you need is a high school diploma and you can make a really good living,” Kiefer said. “Even during the pandemic, we are an essential service. We never stopped working. People were staying home more and requesting pest control more so we were just as busy then as now.”
The unemployment rate in Alabama is 2.1% and in Morgan County it’s 2%, according to the Alabama Department of Labor, which means many local companies are struggling to fill labor gaps. Expos like this one are part of the long-term effort.
“It’s tough and we are hiring weekly,” said Marquieta Wiley, project coordinator for Fite Building Co.
Wiley represented Fite at the expo Thursday and instructed students to take apart a 2-foot-high series of wooden blocks without knocking them over, like a large Jenga game. She said now is the time to reach students while they are young so they will consider trades like construction as they are nearing high school graduation.
“We’re trying to pull trade back in,” Wiley said. “We go around to schools and try to reach kids and tell them there are good jobs you can get without a college degree if you can’t afford college. Trade jobs are good jobs.”
Wiley said Fite provides all necessary training, including paying for employees to attend classes and training for their commercial driver’s license.
“We also do extension training and they can complete (occupational safety) certifications,” Wiley said. “We invest in people who show interest.”
Workers at 3M Co. were also there to highlight their work. Human Resources Supervisor Ellory Cartagena said students can get hired right out of high school for several jobs they offer.
“We hire production that doesn’t require any college, but we also have four-year college careers like engineers and human resources positions,” Cartagena said.
Amber Fortenberry from the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce said the expo presents an opportunity for kids to have hands-on experience with companies as they exhibit and explain features of their work. Fortenberry, the director of talent development and recruitment, said this is her sixth year to be involved with the expo.