Ethan Runion and Makayla Harper represent a shift in thinking for students who are preparing for graduation.
They have selected careers that do not require a college degree. Runion, a senior at East Limestone High, plans to join the Marines, while Harper, an East Limestone junior, wants to become a police officer.
The two were among more than 1,000 students from Lawrence, Limestone and Morgan counties to attend the annual Career and Workforce Expo at Calhoun Community College on Wednesday.
The expo is designed to bring high school and college students together with local businesses, industries and employers who provide the jobs, said Gwen Baker, director of Calhoun’s Dual Enrollment and Tech Prep programs.
“This year, as in the past, the focus is on bridging the skills gap identified by area businesses and industries among today’s workforce,” Baker said.
Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce President John Seymour said the event, which started more than 15 years ago, is “hugely” important because Toyota and Mazda announced plans in January to open a $1.6 billion manufacturing facility in the Huntsville-annexed Greenbrier part of Limestone County by 2021.
“We’re going to have a lot of good-paying jobs with benefits that don’t require a college degree, and our students need to know about them,” he said. “We have to also make sure they are qualified to take the jobs.”
Employers with information on careers from welding to nursing and industrial maintenance packed in the Aerospace Training Center and Health Science building as students collected information about available jobs in the Tennessee Valley and what is required to get them.
Austin High senior Jamara Cole said she’s thought about being a nurse because she helped take care of her grandfather before he died in January 2011. But the event exposed her to opportunities she didn’t know existed in the Decatur area.
“I’m just going to get information about everything and look at it when I get home,” she said.
Most vendors at the expo said they have good job opportunities that do and don’t require college degrees.
Bonita Jones of Joe Wheeler Electric Membership Corp. said the electric company has degree-required positions such as engineers and accountants, but the company can provide specialized training for employees who work on line crews.
Carpenter Technology Corp. on U.S. 31 also provides training for employees who do not have a college degree, Human Resources manager Theresa Nelson said.
Nora Vanderploeg, who is human resources manager at 3M, said the plant has agreements with Calhoun that allow high school graduates to get specific training to work at 3M. She said there are “multi-craft” positions available, which means a person can be trained at Calhoun in fields such as electrical and maintenance.
Calhoun had some of its programs at the expo, and the booth related to criminal justice is what attracted Harper. In addition to an associate degree program in criminal justice, she collected information about working as a security guard, which does not require a college degree.
“I’ve always wanted to work in law enforcement and now I know what my alternatives are,” she said.
Athens High students Gentry Wolfe and Jasmine Herron have selected careers, but attending the expo exposed them to opportunities they have talked about in classes, but were not sure where they existed.
“Our teachers talk to us about spreading our wings and reaching for whatever we want to be,” said Herron, who wants to become a teacher. “It’s not just go to college.”
Alabama’s new college and career readiness standards require school districts to make sure every graduate is ready for college or a career.
Seymour said the need to graduate students ready for a career always has existed in the Decatur area because 25 percent of the jobs in Morgan County are in manufacturing.
“The need will become more prevalent with the new plants coming,” he said.