Worlds of Work 2016 a Huge Success

By Julie Hindall, Workforce Development Project Manager

Extending in scope beyond an experience or an event, Worlds of Work (WOW) opportunity expo is unparalleled in the State of Alabama. A partnership between West Alabama Works, Region 3 Workforce Development Council, The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, Shelton State Community College, and numerous business sponsors and event personnel, the WOW is a two day, industry-driven event open to 8th graders, as well as high schoolers and their parents. It brings to life a foundation of workforce education beginning in 8th grade classrooms, and sets the tone for career portfolios and career pathway work which will continue in local school systems. All of these activities are designed to produce the much needed qualified workforce of tomorrow.

Scroll down for a photo gallery of the two-day event.

Worlds of Work was created to ensure that talent is developed and fast-tracked to supply business and industry needs in one seamless delivery system. As the hiring needs of West Alabama continue to increase, an available workforce is needed quickly. With sixty-five percent of jobs requiring an advanced technical certificate or associate’s degree, well-paying jobs can be gotten by those obtaining necessary credentials. Developing emerging talent must begin in the K-12 system and extend into the post-secondary system. Gary Nichols, Chair of the Region 3 Workforce Development Council said, “We want to make Worlds of Work part of the new normal in engaging kids to think about what they want to do as adults. We need to touch the lives of kids in classrooms and at events like this.”

We want to make Worlds of Work part of the new normal in engaging kids to think about what they want to do as adults.

Curriculum has been designed to prepare students to fully understand and appreciate their workforce opportunities. Every eighth grade student in the region, which includes Bibb, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Marengo, Lamar, Pickens, Sumter, and Tuscaloosa counties, learns about featured “Worlds,” or industry clusters, utilizing an app on their cell phones. Then, they conduct a “Scavenger Hunt” to ensure their knowledge is complete and set expectations for event day. Worlds of Work not only creates awareness among students, but educators as well.

Worlds of Work is set up on Shelton State Community College campus, using space both in and outside of the building. There are 4 Zones housing the “Worlds,” which are made up of various businesses within industry clusters such as Manufacturing, Automotive, Healthcare, Construction, and Professional Services. Here, students become familiar with a broad range of jobs located in the region. All 8th grade students in the region attend, and regional high schoolers and parents are also encouraged to take advantage of this unique opportunity.

While at Worlds of Work, students explore growth occupations in specific industry clusters, led by Shelton State employees. They have 30 minutes in each Zone. Teachers and volunteers encourage them to experience all of the stations, while spending time doing activities which genuinely capture their interest. Classroom learning is reinforced regarding the kind of education needed to obtain various in-demand jobs, as well as average wages for those jobs. This level of understanding promotes student focus, results in increased dual enrollments, and generates a stronger workforce emerging post-high school for immediate, available hire. As Donny Jones, Chief Operating Officer of The Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama states, “It is imperative that education and industry continue to partner together in this great endeavor.” 

Any businesses looking to participate must have a hand-on series of activities related to their field of expertise to directly engage students in meaningful ways. As these 100 plus businesses have regional workforce needs, they make a financial and time investment in the event, understanding that it reaches out directly to their future workforce. This unprecedented approach brings each industry directly to students. In fact, attendees who have read about the event or heard others talk about it are still completely surprised when experiencing it for themselves, as it is unlike any other event presented to students in the region. 

Observing student reactions makes it obvious that they are immersed in the experience at each station within a “World.” At WOW, students can assist in delivering a baby, conducting welding simulations, preparing desserts, completing masonry work, planting trees, robotic simulation, and learning military fire arm safety. They can complete heavy equipment simulations and conduct automotive diagnostics. Professionals talk to students individually and in groups about the rigor and reality of their professions, encouraging further career exploration.

The value of investment in Worlds of Work and what it represents long term for the region, as well as the entire state, is undeniable. While only in its second year, Worlds of Work engages over 4,000 eighth graders, 500 high school students and parents, and hundreds of business and industry leaders and colleagues. As Jones asserts, “Connecting with high schoolers and their parents is also a critical component of Worlds of Work, as they help to shape students and their career decisions. We gladly welcome parents to actively participate.” Students who attend Worlds of Work state that they have a clearly defined career path, know exactly where they need to study to obtain necessary skills, and the local companies for whom they want to work.

It can’t be classified or explained, but simply experienced.  Whether student, teacher, parent, or industry expert, every attendee at Worlds of Work walks away with new ideas, a renewed appreciation for local business and industry, and a sense of hope for what can and will be in West Alabama.

For more information on how you can engage in this valuable opportunity, please visit www.worldsofwork.com or contact Julie Hindall, Workforce Development Program Manager at 205-391-0331.