HANCOCK COUNTY — Though many of his peers are uncertain about what types of careers they’d like to pursue after high school, Collin Wooten has his future years somewhat sketched out.
The 15-year-old freshman from New Palestine High School said he wants to become a veterinarian but is keeping his mind open to other career options, like business.
On Wednesday morning, Collin and hundreds of other local freshmen got a glimpse into local workplaces, from manufacturing facilities to corner-window offices at several local businesses as part of Career Exploration Day. The event was organized by the Hancock County Career Success Coalition, a Greenfield-based committee that aims to increase educational opportunities for young people.
This year’s event included students from New Palestine and Greenfield-Central high schools. They were welcomed by business leaders, who encouraged them to start considering career fields that interest them early so they have time to plan their high school schedules to complement those interests.
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“There are a lot of options to weigh,” Collin said. “You have to figure how much the work might pay, what the job field is like and if you’re going to enjoy it.”
Retta Livengood, president of the Greenfield Area Chamber of a Commerce and member of the Career Success Coalition, said her hope for the event is to give students a sense of the complexity of the job market and the breadth of careers available locally.
“Even inside just a single building, there are jobs for everything from assembly-line work, engineering, (information technology) and management,” Livengood said. “There are so many opportunities, and some (students) may not even know they exist.”
About 300 freshmen from Greenfield-Central and 200 from New Palestine High School took part in the tours, which sent students to 12 work sites, including local fire stations, manufacturing plants and nonprofit organizations. At each location, students met with business leaders and their staff, who talked about their passion for the job and what led them to their career field.
The Career Success Coalition organized a similar event last year, which served Greenfield-Central freshmen and included visits to three local businesses. This year, organizers expanded the event in hopes of benefiting more students, Livengood said.
John Schini, a freshman at Greenfield-Central High School, took part in a tour of the Stanley Black & Decker plant in Greenfield, which manufactures power tools.
The 14-year-old said it’s difficult to map out a course of study for the next three years, but getting out of the classroom helps students gain a sense of the range of careers available.
Like many freshmen, he has started to get a sense of what interests him, he said, but figuring out how that fits into a career will take more exploration.
“I think I want to do video game designing, but it’s tough. I might want to do something else,” John said. “It’s hard to know.”
Those uncertainties are important for students to explore early in high school, said Kim Kile, guidance director of Greenfield-Central High School.
“Our students learn about so much in their classes, but we’re really hoping to apply that knowledge to real-world scenarios,” Kile said. “Students these days live in an instantaneous world; they want to know more about a subject right away.”
By piquing students’ interests early in high school, it leaves them time to explore their options and map out a tentative plan, Kile said.
For example, she said, a student interested in engineering might sign up to take classes with Greenfield-Central’s Project Lead the Way, a national program that provides students hands-on experience in engineering and science disciplines.
Dave Bego, president and CEO of Executive Management Services, a company that oversees a network of commercial cleaning services, led one of the groups of New Palestine freshmen through a tour of the Greenfield facility.
Bego reassured students that a career path doesn’t have to be set in stone and encouraged them to explore their interests. He told students about the arc of his own career. Initially, he was committed to pursuing a career in medicine, but as he learned more, that mentality shifted, he said.
“Most kids coming out of high school have no idea about what they want to do,” Bego said. “This gives them the idea that they need to think outside the box and to be open to where it takes them.”
Once students do wrap up high school and begin contemplating their next moves, the hope is that whatever they choose to pursue, they do so locally, Kile said.
Introducing them to local opportunities is a step in that direction, she said.
“If we can help plant these seeds, we can help them see how valuable the resources in our county are,” she said. “We all want to see Hancock County grow, and these kids are essential to that.”