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Career opportunities: Career fair put on for Kokomo Area Career Center seniors highlights local opportunities in their fields

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career fair

EMPLOYERS — Zach Walker with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (right) shows Kokomo Area Career Center senior Tyler Vanmeter how electricity flows from the sphere through his arm, making his hair raise. Vanmeter was one of many KACC seniors to attend a first-ever career fair last week geared toward KACC programs.

With hundreds of students earning credentials from the Kokomo Area Career Center (KACC) that make them employable right out of high school, a first-ever career fair was held for students in KACC programs last week to spotlight local opportunities in their fields.

Businesses from around the community attended the fair, seeking students from particular programs. The aim of the fair, said Counselor Christa Jordan, was to show students what’s available if they were to enter the workforce after high school.

“It’s to show our kids what’s available in the area, to allow our businesses the opportunity to meet with and talk to our students,” said Jordan.

The career fair featured medical facilities, veterinary offices, HVAC companies, representatives from the food service industry, auto dealerships, nonprofit organizations, cosmetologists, and more.

Button McGonigal was on hand, targeting students from KACC’s automotive technology program. The automotive dealership formed a close partnership with KACC several years ago and since has been using the school’s program as a feeder system for Button McGonigal and Abra Collision.

“Rex Gingerich, our owner, is really into making sure we’re advancing young people’s careers along the way, so we bring in interns from the school to work with while in high school, and it gives them an opportunity to see if they like working in our industry. And it gives us a chance to take a look and vet them, so we’ve just got a really close relationship with the school,” said Don Frick, VP of Fixed Operations.

Currently, Button McGonigal has around five to six graduates employed, and one of the company’s team leaders was a student at KACC at one time.

“He’s moved quite a bit up the ladder now, a level 3 technician,” said Frick.

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers also attended the fair, represented by Mike Mills and Zach Walker. The pair said they were looking for students who were interested in joining IBEW’s five-year apprenticeship program. Walker said the program was a great alternative for students not looking to go to college but looking for steady, good-paying work.

“We send kids through (the program), and they walk away with no debt at the end of it,” Walker said.

While experience isn’t required to be a part of the apprenticeship program, Mills said students who have an understanding of the work make a good fit as they know what they’re getting into and already know they enjoy it.

“That gives them a heads up of if they’re really going to work out making this a career choice,” Mills said. “Periodically we see people come out, and they realize it’s not what they want for their life because it’s not a job; it’s a career. It’s a full lifetime, a variety of work, and you’ve got to immerse yourself in the field to stay up to date with the technology. It’s ongoing learning throughout your career.”

Austin Stoerger, a senior in KACC’s welding program, attended the fair. While he will be attending Hobart College to continue his education in welding in the fall, he said it was eye-opening to see what opportunities were available locally.

Another senior in the welding program, Tyler Vanmeter, agreed.

“It’s a lot of opportunities, and a lot of these places, I didn’t really think about ever going into or anything. But coming down here, it really opened my eyes,” Vanmeter said.

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Several hair salons also were on hand seeking students in KACC’s cosmetology program. One barbershop also was in attendance, Barlow’s Barbershop. The booth was manned by owner Matt Barlow and his son, Braxten, a KACC cosmetology graduate who’s now working at his dad’s shop.

Barlow said his son didn’t get the job at the barbershop because he’s his son; it was because he was qualified, he said.

career booth

DISCUSSIONS — CNA students Kaelyn Vandiver and Gabrielle Fitchpatrick talk to Joni Lott at the Primrose Retirement Community booth.

“Being my son is really beside the point,” Barlow said. “I’ve had the shop open for a couple years, and I’ve had chairs open here and there. People want to come in and rent chairs, and I had to be brutally honest, like, ‘No, you can’t work here. You’re not skilled enough. You’re not qualified enough.’

“So even with him being my son, if he was not qualified, he would not be behind the chair, and he did that himself. He came to the career center. He learned what he learned there, and now he came into the shop and got real-world experience,” Barlow said.

Going through KACC’s cosmetology program, Braxen said, prepared him well for the workforce.

“It was a good program. It helped prepare me for life in the shop because we have walk-ins come in all the time. And then it was also a lot easier for me to go through high school, and right as I graduate I would have my license instead of going all through high school and going to a separate school,” Braxten said. “It’s just a lot easier to do at the same time, and it surely saved a lot of money.”

Also attending the fair was Hacienda. Currently, the restaurant has three employees who are part of KACC’s culinary arts program, said Manager Mandy Ochoa. The students in that program, she said, are an asset to Hacienda as they earn their ServSafe certifications at KACC and have experience in all aspects of the restaurant business.

While she said Hacienda wasn't currently hiring, she was looking to meet with new students.

Joni Lott with Primrose Retirement Community attended the event and met with students in KACC’s CNA program. The retirement community works closely with the school's CNA program and also hires many of the students who graduate from it. Currently, around six KACC CNA students are working at Primrose.

In addition to local businesses, several out-of-town companies joined the event, such as Charley Creek Inn, a hotel and restaurant located in Wabash. Representative Robert Yaggi was seeking students in either KACC’s culinary arts program or hospitality program. The employment markets in those industries, particularly hospitality, he said, were extremely competitive, and good, qualified employees were needed.

Dilling Group from Logansport also joined the fair. The company currently is hiring 30 to 40 people.

In addition to spotlighting career opportunities, Jonathan Shuck, director of KACC, said the event also gave students the opportunity to practice their job skills. Ahead of the fair, students worked to develop their resumes, learned about employability skills, and practiced interview skills.

“I hope the career fair leads to connections with future employers. I see tremendous value in this event, and I am excited for our students,” Shuck said.

Currently, 405 seniors are enrolled in KACC programs.