Workforce investment expo comes to Lee County

By Rebekah Martin
Assistant Editor

An estimated 4,000 eighth graders from Bullock, Chambers, Lee, Macon and Russell counties will participate in a Career Discovery expo that will take place at Auburn University Feb. 17-18, 2015. The expo is the first that is being organized by the East Alabama Workforce Investment Network, a company with a mission to facilitate a workforce development system that educates, trains and prepares a workforce to attain economic prosperity for Region 8.
EAWIN Region 8 director Albert Davis said in order to ensure Lee and surrounding counties are prepared for the way the workforce is changing, the gap between students and industry leaders needs to be bridged.
“While the workforce may be sufficient right now in Lee County for example, as you look at our other counties there are certainly some concerns about the quality of the workforce in terms of skill sets and the availability of the workforce in some of those counties,” Davis said.
“We began to realize we need to look at the future workforce.”
Davis said the planning committee decided to target eighth graders because by the time students enter high school, they should already be aware of the options that are available.
Davis said jobs in the technical arena are booming. “A lot of students don’t know a lot about the jobs in that area,” Davis said. “This is going to be an opportunity for us to expose 4,000 eighth graders to those career opportunities.”
Davis said the Career Discovery expo was designed to be a hands-on, interactive career exploration experience, led by industry and business professionals.
“We know that these students – if it wasn’t hands on – wouldn’t want to stay,” Motley said. “It has be interactive,” Davis added. “Not a bunch of booths where you hand out material.”
Some of the clusters that will be a part of the expo are agriculture, education and training, public service and healthcare. Each cluster of job types will feature representation from multiple business exhibitors.
Davis said student will be able to interact with a real television setup. “In the communications and information technology cluster a student could actually sit in the seat of anchor,” Davis said. “That’s the kind of thing we’re talking about.”
Dinah Motley who works with the Opelika Chamber of Commerce said the EAWIN expo is something that is needed in East Alabama. “We already have a good workforce in this area,  but I think this will bring us all up,” Motley said. “After all of this investment – every year if we keep doing this, just imagine how great it’s going to be. You always have to look to the future.”
Davis said early exposure to vital career information is key to a successful future workforce. “Some students have no idea what it would take to become a reporter or a camera person,” Davis said. “The people that staff the clusters are the people that do the jobs. All the exhibitors that are participating will bring their employees with them. Students will be able to talk to the people who do it every day.”
Every eighth grader in public, private and home schools in the five-county region is invited to participate in the expo. Davis and Motley said the response has been excellent so far.
“We’re looking forward to it,” Motley said. “It’s really going to be a good event.”
Motley said an event on this scale is an expensive undertaking. “It takes a lot of money and a lot of people,” Motley said. “Volunteers are always needed.”
Davis added that upwards of 200 volunteers will be needed to assist with the expo.
Davis said he believes the expo will provide students with the rare opportunity to learn about the industries that make up the region’s workforce. “Many don’t know a lot of the wonderful products these companies are producing right here in our area,” Davis said. “It’s exciting to be able to provide that.”
There will be an open house for parents, teachers, high school students and community leaders Feb. 17 from 2:30-6:30 p.m. “We are hoping we will have a good turnout for the open house,” Davis said. “Everyone can benefit in some way from attending.”
Davis said the main goal of the event is to adequately prepare students for what lies ahead to ensure a solid workforce will be in East Alabama’s future.
“These companies are going to keep growing,” Davis said. “If these companies continue to grow and we don’t keep building this workforce, down the road we won’t have enough people fill the slots they have. We’re thinking 15-20 years down the road, where is this community going to be and will we have a skilled workforce that will continue to support all these wonderful companies we’ve got coming here?”