Two high school sophomores studied a pamphlet advertising a free six-week certified nursing assistant course at the Calaveras Unified School District and Bret Harte Unified High School District College and Career Fair on Wednesday before setting it down and turning toward each other.
The offer was attractive, but it wasn’t what they were looking for.
“I want to work in water. The Calaveras County Water District, water management, something like that in the industry,” said Calaveras High School sophomore Elizabeth Metzger, 15.
“She wanted to do it first, it’s good money,” she added, looking toward her friend, Calaveras High School sophomore Jody McNair, 16. “I thought it was something I would be interested in. We were looking, but we haven’t found it yet.”
Any student who was either seeking out a booth of a preconceived interest or meandering the more than 70 booths set up in the Bret Harte High School gym may have felt similarly overwhelmed by the breadth of choices available to them.
Whether they were seeking a vocation, a college experience or a career in military or law enforcement, the options were manifold. Down one row, a student might find outreach from local favorites Columbia College or Cal Fire, and down another, unions for ironworkers, bricklayers or cement masons.
But for the about 600 students navigating the career fair, mostly freshmen and sophomores, the diversity of the options was exactly the point, said Bret Harte Unified High School District superintendent Michael Chimente.
“We want to infuse the idea with our high schools to explain career awareness,” he said. “The best part is how Bret Harte and Calaveras are together. In a way, that helps them in a positive way to think about what their future is going to be.”
The congregations of students around certain booths were usually indicative of prizes, incentives and challenges that promoted student engagement with recruiters. Many of the companies and organizations did not provide direct job offers immediately after high school, but rather, guidance on the educational pathways required to find a career in a certain field.
Almost continuously throughout the career fair, a half-dozen students surrounded the striated rainbow gleam of an augmented-reality sandbox at the corner booth of the Tuolumne River Trust, just adjacent to the Calaveras County Water District.
Metzger and McNair had found what they were looking for.
“This is my favorite part,” Metzger said, holding her hand above mounds of sand set with digital contour lines to explain erosion and watersheds.
“I’m making it rain,” she said, as torrents of blue streaked downwards along the sand and collected in the valleys and streamlines along the sandy mountaintop.
“This lets them know that this is out there,” said Tuolumne River Trust employee Ariel Bohr, 30, of Big Oak Flat. “Some people might not even know this was a job. I wish I had a career day with something like this.”
The kinetic hands-on experience, she said, provides an opportunity for students to learn about careers that require a focus on science education in both high school and college.
“It makes me interested in it. It shows me what we’ll be doing at this job and that’s really cool,” Metzger said.
Other students also found what they were looking for almost immediately and didn’t take the opportunity to peruse any other options.
“I love welding,” said Bret Harte High School sophomore Mark Woodlief, 16, in front of the gloves, fire-retardant jacket and metal mask at the Angels Camp company Distinctive Metals booth.
“Everything here gives me an idea about the kind of stuff I’ll be doing,” he said, holding up a brick of metal. “But not as many people know what they want to do, and they’re here to look at the job types.”
Breakout sessions were also conducted with focus on larger themes like agriculture, automobile mechanics, child development and technology.
But for many of the students, the fair just offered an opportunity to investigate multiple career options rather than settle and decide that day.
Calaveras High School sophomore Carlos Avila, 16, performed 50 pushups in front of a crowd of students at the U.S. Army recruiting booth but, after collecting a free T-shirt and yellow water bottle, indicated that a military career wasn’t really a part of his future.
“I’d rather look into the health careers,” he said, wiping a bead of sweat from his forehead. “There’s a lot of good information about the career that I want to go into here.”
The Career Fair is a subset of the Calaveras Workforce Development Initiative, a CTE partnership comprised of the county high schools, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors, local community colleges including Columbia College, and the Mother Lode Workforce Development Board.
Columbia College Career and Job Placement Program Technician Mart Watts said multiple conversations throughout the day gave her excitement about the future prospects of Calaveras students.
“It’s amazing that they’re looking into careers so early on,” she said. “It has been a great opportunity to meet with students and learn what they can do with that determination.”