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Job fair reminds Pendleton Heights students of vocational possibilities

Mar. 29—PENDLETON — Efforts to introduce Indiana's high school students to work-based opportunities have been accelerating for several years, including legislation signed into law last year by Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Among the new law's mandates is a requirement that all public schools hold at least one career fair annually during school hours.

Pendleton Heights High School complied with that obligation Thursday, when more than 700 juniors and seniors filed into an auxiliary gymnasium throughout the morning to chat with recruiters from an estimated 75 colleges and businesses in industries from construction to health care and education.

"The state is moving towards trying to get kids more work-based experience before they leave high school," said Mike Taylor, a guidance counselor at Pendleton Heights. "Overall, it's kind of a win-win for everybody that has come out."

Taylor, other school officials and business representatives on hand agreed that regardless of industry, employers are increasingly seeking workers who can immediately step into roles with minimal training — regardless of their age.

"(Fire) departments are really struggling to get good new recruits coming in," James Harless, a member of the South Madison Fire Territory, said during a break from chatting with students. "There are so many options with (high school) career centers, they can get a lot of the training before they even graduate. So many departments now are starting to hire at the age of 18 for a full-time career, that they can graduate and get right into a nice career."

Although Madison Cecil has already committed to her post-graduation plans, the senior said gathering information on potential summer employment opportunities would give her a chance to get some on-the-job training in her field of study, child psychology. She paused to chat with a representative from the YMCA's Before and After Care programs, which provide children with supplemental learning activities.

"This is a good opportunity to investigate the colleges and other things that you can do," she said. "Looking around and seeing stuff like this, I could do this over the summer and it would look good for college, too."

The construction industry was particularly well represented, with nearly a third of employers attending coming from that field. Organizers said the career fair's roster reflected a sense of pressing need for workers in construction, skilled trades and civil service.

"Kids need to see what's available to them," said Branden Jessie, a technology teacher at Pendleton Heights. "We tried to get as many different business representatives and different careers as we could, but the construction field is the biggest one here represented because right now, that is the demand. They need people."

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.