CANTON, Ill. – Students at Canton High School participated in the school’s largest career expo that the high school has ever seen. University of Illinois Extension staff worked with representatives from Canton Area Chamber of Commerce and Spoon River College to initiate the planning process that turned into a successful program in which 320 juniors and seniors interacted with 45 local employers.
Extension staff members Kathie Brown, community and economic development educator, and Emily Schoenfelder, 4-H youth development educator, were joined by staff from SIU School of Medicine, Canton Area Chamber of Commerce, and Spoon River College to build a series of career exploration experiences that were specifically designed to help high school students consider their future careers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Career Outlook, many high school students are undecided on their plans after high school. School counselors are not concerned by this as they understand students often change their minds as they learn about different career options and more importantly many of tomorrow’s careers do not currently exist.
To help the Career Expo experience be even more worthwhile, Schoenfelder met with the students prior to the event to guide them in considering how to develop a career plan and to think about conversations and questions they wanted to pose to representatives of each career cluster during the Expo.
At the event, students rotated through “clusters” of booths that represented the following career and industry sectors: 1) Manufacturing, Engineering & Logistics 2) Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources 3) Business, Management & Administration 4) Arts, Communication, & Information Systems 5) Human Services and 6) Health & Life Science.
At each cluster, students visited at least two booths in which local employers provided hands-on activities that taught students more about related careers. Throughout the day, young people were able to do activities such as drive a virtual tractor, develop and pitch a business plan, cast metal at a portable foundry, and suture a fake wound. Plus students learned about the educational and skill requirements of different fields, potential college and career pathways, and the importance of networking.
An evaluation conducted by Extension based on work with UIUC College of Education faculty, documented the success of this effort on many fronts:
- 94% of participants know at least one career field that is a great match for their talents, abilities, & skills.
- 77% of participants learned more about local career possibilities from the Canton Area Career Expo.
- 53% of participants are considering careers they hadn’t thought about prior to attending.
- 55% of participants indicated that attending the Canton Area Career Expo helped them decide what they wanted to do for a future career.
Everyone in the community has much to gain from partnering in efforts that ultimately improve the readiness of our future workforce.
University of Illinois Extension offers a wide variety of programs, resources, and assistance for youth and adults in the areas of agriculture, youth development, community economic development, horticulture, nutrition, and natural resources. For more information, visit their website at https://extension.illinois.edu/fmpt or contact your local Extension office.