Worlds of work

Local leaders, educators and industry professionals gathered at Wallace State Community College Wednesday to learn about the Worlds of Work career fair that will be coming to the college this September. 

It’s a job seeker’s market out there. More than at any time in recent memory, businesses and industries are competing for quality employees in a post-pandemic rearrangement of the labor market; a workforce churn that’s still in the process of shuffling.

While it’s hard to predict how long that trend will last, local business owners, corporate leaders, and economic development officials are putting together a strategy they hope will pay off not just tomorrow, but in the years to come. 

This week, they came together at Wallace State Community College with local educators and delegates from the Alabama Department of Commerce, all to equip area businesses with new tools for attracting young people to their future teams.

Local school systems and the business community will collaborate this fall to stage a multi-day, hands-on career demonstration event at Wallace State aimed at middle school and high school students. Dubbed “Worlds of Work,” the idea behind the September showcase is to lend some brand power to the diverse array of Cullman County’s career offerings — whether they’re in high-tech fields, health care, public service, entrepreneurial startups, agriculture, the service industry, or blue-collar labor.

In some ways, Worlds of Work resembles a traditional career fair. But rather than communicating with job prospects through simple table displays, brochures, and rehearsed human resources pitches, it’s meant to give a bigger emphasis to the real sights and sounds of the jobs themselves. What’s it like to be a heavy equipment operator? A machinist? A nurse? At Worlds of Work, kids from grades 8-10 will be treated to a grand tour of up-close glimpses at those career fields and more.

“We’ve always had a career fair, but this is something new and a little bit different,” explains Susan Eller, retail & workforce development manager for the Cullman Economic Development Agency (CEDA). “It’s a new transition to ‘Worlds of Work’ — a rebranding that’s meant to better convey to our young people the actual hands-on experience they can get from seeing up close the kind of career opportunities we have in Cullman County.”

The September event won’t be a static, centralized affair huddled inside a coliseum arena. Rather, it’ll unfold across the Wallace State campus, taking advantage of the college’s array of well-equipped instructional facilities in the learning environments where future students might one day find themselves.

CEDA director Dale Greer says no local business is too big or too small to take part in Worlds of Work. As long as they’re interested in drawing future employees to their field, and as long as they’ve got a compelling way to showcase their business to young people, they’re welcome to take part.

“This isn’t an event where a trucking company is going to just come out and say, ‘Hey, we need drivers.’ This is an event where they’ll actually show up with the big rigs,” Greer explains. “The idea is to let people see what it’s like firsthand, and to kind of picture themselves in different careers while they’re still in school and thinking about their future.

“You’ll have things like a welding company that’ll come and set up a welding simulator. Or a health care practice that demonstrates their procedures on manikins so the students can see what the work is actually like. If you’re a brick layer, you can come and set up fully-functioning equipment and actually mix mortar — anything you’d like to do, really, that gives kids that firsthand insight into what it’s like to be a mason.

Worlds of Work is an initiative headed up by the Alabama Department of Commerce’s AlabamaWorks! division, a statewide “network of interconnected providers of workforce services” that enlists governments, education, and the private sector to help train and match job seekers with employers across Alabama.

The September event isn’t AlabamaWorks!’ first rodeo, and executive director Stephanie McCulloch encourages local businesses interested in taking part at the Wallace State event to browse its website (alabamaworks.com) or social media feeds (@ALWorksSystem on Twitter; @AlabamaWorks on Facebook) to see how the agency has staged previous “Worlds of Work” showcases in other Alabama communities.

“For businesses, this is an opportunity to have access to thousands of students who are early in the process of weighing their options for a career,” Greer summarizes. “It’s definitely come-one; come-all: It’s for small, locally-owned business owners and for larger industries equally.

“And for the kids, it’s a way to begin forming those early ideas about what’s involved in these different areas of work — and that includes the opportunity to recognize what does appeal to their interests and abilities, just as much as what doesn’t. All around, it’s a great way for young people to be well informed as they start thinking about their futures.”

For more information about how your business can participate in the September showcase at Wallace State, contact the Cullman Economic Development Agency at (256) 739-189, or via email at cullmaneda@cullmaneda.org.

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