The annual Technical College High School Career and Training Fair, which has proven to be a win-win proposition for both employers and students, will take place on Thursday, March 7 at the TCHS Brandywine Campus. The event brings together potential employers – particularly ones with positions to fill – and TCHS students for a series of interviews, professional portfolio reviews, and networking opportunities.
Sponsoring this year’s event are the Western Chester County Chamber of Commerce, Exton Regional Chamber of Commerce, and Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce. The Career and Training Fair has grown exponentially since its launch in 2016, and more than 150 employers expected to be represented this year, along with nearly 1,000 seniors from TCHS’s Brandywine, Pickering, and Pennock’s Bridge campuses.
What sets the event apart from many other career fairs is the opportunity for employers to make a meaningful connection with students through one-on-one interviews.
“Our goal for the event is to connect seniors with employment for after graduation,” said Dave Purdy, Vice Principal at TCHS Brandywine. “It is a requirement as part of their grade that they do at least one interview, but most of our students are doing multiple interviews. We make sure we get at least one employer for each of our programs.”
According to Brian Hughes, Assistant Principal at the TCHS Pennock’s Bridge campus, whether or not a student is interviewing for an actual job, the one-on-one sessions with employers are valuable training. “It’s great for our students to have the opportunity to interview for a job or participate in a practice interview, depending on the respective company,” he said. “So it’s either a great real-world experience or great practice for an upcoming real-world experience.”
Erin Petters, Vice Principal at TCHS Pickering, was instrumental in getting the Career and Training Fair off the ground.
“I worked at the Brandywine campus and was part of the Learning Support Team that came up with this idea the first year,” she said. “We kept brainstorming and thought about bringing in some employers who could give real interviews to students just for that experience. I got to see it grow firsthand from where it was that first year. What that team has done to date is unbelievable.”
Petters has seen how successful the event has been, as each year students get offered summer internships, scholarships, and full-time jobs as a result of their attending the fair. Some fortunate students have even been offered jobs on the spot, based on their interviews.
Though the Career and Training Fair typically has multiple employers conducting interviews with students in every program, they get more or fewer participating companies depending on what the need is in different industries. Purdy notes, for example, that more HVAC companies were represented at the previous career fair than they had graduates from the HVAC program, as the lack of qualified labor has plagued that industry for quite some time.
Some of the participating companies for the upcoming event include:
- Brandywine Hospital
- Brandywine Valley Heating & Air Conditioning
- YMCA of Greater Brandywine
- Fulton Financial Corporation
- Barclay Friends
- Main Line Health
- Immaculata University
- Urban Outfitters
- Allied Universal
In addition to interviews, students showcase the culmination of their TCHS experience in the form of an individual portfolio.
“All of our seniors create a portfolio of what they’ve done, and that they bring the day of the event,” said Purdy. “It can be certificates they have achieved, community service they have done, and tasks they have mastered during their time at TCHS.”
Portfolios also include students’ resumes, examples of a cover letter, and their own career plan, which prepares them for job searches now and in the future. Employers in attendance are also involved in the process by providing feedback on interviewees’ strengths and areas needing improvement, using a grading form that is returned to the school.
To complement the requirements for students to partake in interviews and showcase their personal portfolios, TCHS introduced a Dress for Success program to ensure students at the fair look the part of a successful and confident candidate.
“We outfit students with interviewing/professional clothing, not just to help them that day, but they are allowed to keep the clothing and use it for future occasions where they need professional dress clothes,” said Purdy.
TCHS staff regularly donates lightly used suits, ties, socks, shoes, and belts for students in need.
According to Petters, dressing the part, along with good preparation, can make all the difference to the seniors seeking employment opportunities.
“Students are able to walk into an interview not just mentally prepared but feeling like they were ready to take on the world,” she said. “And we know that type of mentality and attitude is what sets them apart.”
Employers have noticed. Purdy recalls one employer commenting that he couldn’t believe these were just high school students.
“He remarked how everybody is professional, they dress professionally, and they are taking it seriously,” he said. And Petters said that employers are always “wowed” by how the students present themselves during the event.
Hughes says that employers who attend the Career and Training Fair get the advantage of seeing what prospective employees, who have the desire to stay local, are available.
“These students have trained for three years in their respective fields and are looking to work locally,” he said. “It’s imperative that we hire locally if we want our communities to continue to thrive.”
While she has interviewed many adults over her years as an administrator, Petters admits that many have not been as prepared as the TCHS seniors who interview at the fair. And preparing these students for successful futures is what she says the Career and Training Fair is all about.
“It’s empowering the students to look the part, feel the part, and to recognize that they have come from young students just emerging in high school to being fully employable,” she said. “It has been a really enjoyable experience for the employers and for the kids.”
Click here to register your business for the 2019 TCHS Career and Training Fair.