‘Industry Day’ links county’s next-gen workforce with opportunity

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: February 21, 2020 | 1:30 p.m.

Dozens of businesses expected at next Friday’s Industry Day

DINWIDDIE – For students across the country, each day of class completed marks one day closer to receiving their diploma and beginning their next stage of life, which opens a wealth of opportunities that can seem daunting to young grads as post-secondary education, military service, and taking up a trade are all paths to consider.

In Dinwiddie County and the hundreds of students at Dinwiddie High School, they likely will have a leg-up on other graduates thanks to the school division’s twice-yearly “Industry Day” event, a unique take on the educational mainstay of Career Day that connects students with businesses and other opportunities through a special daylong meet-and-greet-style session in the school’s gymnasium.

At its inception in 2014, Industry Day was held solely in February, correlating with National Career and Technical Education Month before growing to a pair events during the school year, once in the fall and a second event during the winter semester, with the next session scheduled for Feb. 28.

“The initial intent when it started in 2014 was to enlighten students on industry and businesses in the local area so they can learn about different careers that are within their interest areas, how to get into them, what it takes, and where they can go with it,” Dinwiddie County Public Schools’ Secondary Instructional Specialist for Career Readiness Dawn Cater explained, detailing the desire to bring the program to even more students in subsequent years.

“So we expanded it to twice a year to try and accommodate as many students as possible,” Cater said. “It has expanded from just the CTE classes and now it includes the fine arts classes and health and physical education classes.”

Along with expanding the event to include more students, Industry Day has expanded to include more businesses, including those beyond the county’s borders. According to Cater, the school district regularly hears from businesses wanting to have a presence at their Industry Day sessions.

“We have been able to expand our business partners who attend,” she said. “When it first started, there were a lot of local businesses and the county and now we are bringing in people from Richmond, Hanover, and other locations. This year, we have Full Sail University from Florida coming, which they cater more to the fine arts, graphic design, music, and drama. So we are trying to expand it to include career fields that students don’t normally get the opportunity to interact with.”

Cater continued, “There is no hardship in us getting construction and electrical companies but now, just last year, we had an artist who came and he has things on Amazon, Wayfair, and Overstock.com, so a lot of students who were interested in art and graphic design were able to talk to him and he gave them valuable information.”

“Rolls Royce has come, we had [the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing] come, so we are trying to bring in some of those other companies to show students that it isn’t what they think it is.”

Dinwiddie High School students visit various tables hosting local and regional businesses during the school’s twice-yearly Industry Day event, an initiative that is only part of Dinwiddie Schools workforce development efforts. (DCPS)

For its organizers, Industry Day goes beyond just having businesses assembled in a room as students complete an activity, it’s about showing what is available to them and how some career fields dovetail into others, offering additional opportunities for growth.

“The intent is to expand out students’ ideas and concepts of what is available because sometimes they don’t understand, if I go work at a manufacturing plant, those plants aren’t what they used to be and you can be an engineer who works for a manufacturing plant. It doesn’t just have to be skilled labor who works at that plant,” Cater shared. “Even a student who is interested in administration doesn’t necessarily have to work in a business office. A student who is interested in finance… Every company has a financial department. It is about helping them understand the avenues that are available.”

Over the last several years, the conversation about life after high school has shifted from a push toward traditional four-year education to featuring more diversity in offerings, including four-year schools, two-year colleges, like local institution Richard Bland College, community colleges, military service, and trade schools.

“For me,” Cater remarked, “because we do so much at the schools with colleges so for us, myself, Carly Woolfolk, who is the director of CTE and secondary education, the county, who collaborates with us, and John Tyler Community College, the colleges and schools we invite, we ask them to focus on their programs for certification versus the four-year, academic-type programs.”

Along with providing students with one-on-one engagement with businesses and those who may have experience in the career field they may be interested in pursuing come graduation, it also places businesses directly in front of Dinwiddie’s next-generation workforce, which presents its own benefits to local and regional employers.

“In November, when we spoke to students about industry as part of a briefing on the topic, we asked that all 18-year-old seniors bring a resume and we asked businesses if they currently have vacancies, we put a note on their table encouraging seniors to talk to them about employment opportunities,” Cater said, noting that extra engagement with both students and businesses brought positive outcomes.

“We had one student who walked around and talked to a company on a Friday. He went back and did an application online and by Monday, he got a call from the company and he was hired that week,” she shared. “We also had a female student who told me she got three job offers through Industry Day.”

“This is all about giving our businesses the opportunity to talk to those students but also giving our students the opportunity to sell themselves. If you are a senior and you are getting ready to get out of high school, this is a great opportunity to get that first-time experience of talking to a business beyond fast food or retail where they may try to get a part-time job.”

While Industry Day makes up only two of the 180 days on the school division’s calendar, the event serves as another link in DCPS’ overall youth workforce learning efforts.

“Our CTE teachers are always working with their students on their interviewing skills throughout the year, how to introduce yourself, how to shake a hand, maintaining eye contact, things of that nature,” she said. “These skills go beyond Industry Day. We ask our students to dress business-casual to present themselves well. As we go forward and we share that our students are getting hired and getting offers at Industry Day, or someone got into an apprenticeship at Industry Day, once students start hearing and seeing that, I think that will resonate with our students.”

According to DCPS’ Dawn Cater, the response from the business community has been strong as more companies desire to be part of Industry Day and other programs the school district is involved in. (DCPS)

According to Cater, Industry Day is also a springboard for other programs, such as the twice-yearly job shadowing program, their summer work-based learning program, and their teen staff programs.

“This is all a mutual benefit because this is the up-and-coming workforce so as people are retiring, you have to have students who are skilled along with having those soft skills is important. A company can train an employee to do a job but its the soft skills that students can be missing so to see businesses be willing to step up and participate to encourage the future workforce is great.”

“The schools, the county, and John Tyler Community College are all on the same sheet of music. We all understand the need for our students to get these experiences. Math, science, and arithmetic are all great but, there are gaps in our economy and society regarding skilled labor so it’s about our kids getting these experiences to realize there are options. It takes a village to raise a child, we all have to join together in order to give our kids what they need to be successful,” she closed.

Those interested in getting involved in Industry Day can contact Cater or Woolfolk at Dinwiddie County Public Schools or the county’s youth workforce development department. 

Copyright 2020 by Womack Publishing
Send Us Your News Tips 

Leave a Reply