On Saturday, March 19, Lincoln Academy hosted its first ever Career Fair in the new Cable-Burnes Applied Technology and Engineering Center (ATEC). The event, organized by Lincoln’s Work Based Learning students and Program Director, Jake Abbott, brought 15 employers, alumni from two Lincoln County high schools, and a wide variety of students together to talk about career skills, networking, and the multitude of career paths within each industry, while providing ample opportunity to practice interviewing and self-presentation skills.
The LA Career Fair, designed for current students and recent graduates, featured employers that were interested in recruiting potential employees along with those who are invested in shaping the education of students in high school. The primary focus of the day, as explained by Lincoln’s Work Based Learning Director Jake Abbott, was to “expose our students to community employers to provide an experience that would build skills, while starting the process of student-employer networking.” Abbott continued,“the planning for this event began in November with a work session that included students, school administrators and community employers. At this session, it was identified that graduating high school students often lack the following set of skills: customer service, communication, time management, initiative, work ethic and problem solving. From that discussion, we developed an opportunity to bring a variety of invested community members together to teach the missing skills.”
At the event, participants were greeted by current Lincoln Academy Work Based Learning students who built speed-interviewing rosters, handed out door prize tickets, and prepared them for the event ahead. Next, participants were directed to meet at the alumni table. Alumni greeted participants with a handshake that led to a critique based on the quality of the handshake, eye contact, and a review of clothing choices. Alumni presented a few tips for making a great first impression, and then sent students on their way through to the vendor tables. LA’s Thanh Tran (Salutatorian of the class of 2015) said, “I enjoyed the experience of being able to give back to my fellow Eagles to help provide them insight – even just a little bit – into the world outside of high school.”
At various points during the event, a skills activity known as speed interviewing took place. Participants took part in three back-to-back ten minute mock interviews as a way to practice and develop their abilities. Their interviewers were local employers and Lincoln Academy staff members. Lincoln Academy Senior Cody Dighton reported that “speed interviewing helped me feel much more comfortable with how to interview, and I was able to figure out the best answer by the end of the experience.”
Bill Morgner, President of Mid Coast Energy Systems in Damariscotta, was involved in the Fair from the early stages, participating in planning meetings, as an employer-vendor at the Fair, and as the guest speaker. His presentation focused on what skills were necessary to be successful in today’s evolving workforce. Morgner shared that “no matter what your career path is, your will and your desire is the key to your success. Learn all you can every step of the way to your career goal.”
The LA Career Fair is appropriate for all students, according to Abbott. “Often a student’s focus is on getting ready for college, but the skills necessary for being successful in college are the same as they are for the workforce. No matter if a student plans to go to college or not, eventually we all end up working in the end. The more focused we can be on developing student skills in this way, the better off they will be, especially if we want to them to stay or come back to our community.”
Lincoln Senior and Work Based Learning student Mackenzie Gamage said, “the Career Fair was an excellent way to learn about different employers and what they expect of their employees.” Mackenzie is currently employed part time at Reny’s Warehouse, where she works daily from 12 PM to 5 PM during her school schedule through the Work-Based Learning program.
Work Based Learning allows LA Seniors who meet certain criteria to take their academic classes in the morning and work off campus for the second half of their day. “The skills developed in this program are practical, and transferable to anything these student wish to do in the future” says Abbott. “These students are learning first-hand what is necessary to be an employee: how to interact professionally with customers and take on the responsibility of a job.”
Nate Courtenay, a Lincoln Academy senior who is completing his work-based learning in the ATEC building as a Student Technology Assistant, summed up the Career Fair this way: “Students oftentimes joke about how school isn’t preparing them for the real world, so they don’t take it seriously. High school, for some reason, has changed from preparing you for the workforce, to preparing you for college. The Career Fair was a change from that. At the event, students were able to work on interviewing skills, hear about success from a very, very wise man, Bill Morgner, and learn about what an industry looks for in an employee. This was a fantastic event where students learned how to make themselves more valuable in the real world.”
The LA Career Fair will return next year to Lincoln Academy’s campus. Building on this year’s success, the 2017 Career Fair will expand to include more employers and more skill-building activities to support even more students. Abbott’s ultimate goal is to continue expanding and improving Lincoln’s career development curriculum to ensure that all students are prepared for life after Lincoln.