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The excitement level was tangible as more than 50 students crowded around the little calf from Bowmont Dairy Farm. They were getting to interact with this calf in a way that many never imagined they’d be able to. More than a few didn’t even recognize it as a cow. Soon, a horn sounded and they had to move on, but this was not an experience they were likely to forget soon. They were walking away from our inaugural Career Quest event with more than a few new experiences under there belt.

As the hubbub of 7th grade voices ebbs away and sighs of relief are uttered, we can look back on a tremendously successful first Career Quest event. Over the course of two days, we engaged around 4,000 young people in a conversation about what they want to be when they grow up. But, unlike most of these conversations, we offered them a plethora of options and allowed them an intentional moment to ponder the options available to them.

Even though we know that these young people will likely change their mind several times in the coming years, it is a great benefit for them to know what options exist for them. For example, while manufacturing is often depicted as a dying industry in our public narrative, the sector is quite strong in the region and there are hundreds of openings that companies are struggling to fill. Further, manufacturing means something different these days then what we usually think about. But, how are today’s young people supposed to know this unless they have a family member in that trade?

For this year’s inaugural event, we had 38 businesses participate and share a bit about what a career with them would look like. Each business was asked to come up with an interactive way of engaging the youth with the work that they do. The businesses came up with some quite inventive ways to get the students engaged, including…

  • AEP having the students put on insulated gloves and then asking them to pick up something small
  • Volvo having toy-scale trucks for the students to build out as quickly as possible
  • F&S Building Innovations bringing a sawhorse for students to nail or drive a screw into
  • Powerschool setting up small computer programming problems for the students to solve

In the end, we heard a number of reports from parents that their child came home engaged and wanting to talk about their day. No matter what their interests were, there was something there that they could get excited about.

Further, the businesses were impressed by how much the students engaged and how excited they were. Universally, the businesses thought it was a good idea for them to be there. They saw it as a way to raise recognition of what they do and build a workforce that can take them into the future.

This potentially life changing experience would have been possible without these businesses being engaged. This is also true of the over 60 volunteers we had participate. Without our partners, something this ambitious would never have worked.

Now, as we look ahead, it is important to note that, even as successful as this year’s event was, this was only a pilot for what will be an annual event moving forward. We anticipate increasing the number of businesses participating next year and ironing out more of the kinks. As our students make their way through the educational system, we want them all to have this touchpoint in 7th grade where they are exposed to a broad swath of the career options they have available to them. This helps create stronger individuals and families, more successful businesses and a more thriving community.