Student career fair

Macey Herren of Rainbow Middle School hammers a nail in the construction area during the annual World of Work student career fair at the Oxford Civic Center on Tuesday. (Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)

OXFORD Austin Johnson saw how robots are used in manufacturing and the tools needed to change electrical power lines on Tuesday. The Pleasant Valley High School student was shown how a pharmacist handles drugs and how a filmmaker creates a video.

Johnson said he was briefly concerned there wouldn’t be someone at the annual Worlds at Work career expo in Oxford to talk about law enforcement jobs.

“I have a lot of family in the military and who are police and state troopers,” the 11th-grader said. “I think that’s something I’d like to do when I grow up.”

Johnson shouldn’t have worried.

Several area police departments were on hand, along with more than 100 local companies, for the first day of the two-day career expo at the Oxford Civic Center. Organized by the Eastman Chemical Company in Anniston and the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce, the event gives thousands of students from seven area counties a hands-on look at more than 100 different career options available where they live.

“It kind of gives you everything to choose from,” Johnson said of the event. “It gives students an idea of what they can do and might change some of their minds.”

According to Eastman, around 7,500 eighth-graders and 11th-graders from schools in Calhoun, Cherokee, Cleburne, Talladega, Randolph, Etowah and Clay counties were set to attend the two-day event.

Eighth-graders are included because that’s the year those students must take a career path assessment exam, which gauges their job interests, said Carol Kirk, chairwoman of the Eastman Worlds of Work program.

“Juniors are picked because they’re closer to graduation,” Kirk said. “We want to let them see what’s out there.”

The expo was broken into sections such as engineering, manufacturing, health care and construction. Companies had different tools and equipment used in jobs that students could try. For example, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama let students handle a tool used to paint car doors. Spire, formerly Alagasco, showed students how to close a gas leak.

Outside behind the civic center, Harold Parker, director of workplace development for McAbee Construction in Tuscaloosa, was testing students on their math knowledge while one of his co-workers showed them his welding skills. Parker said strong math skills are needed in construction work.

“We just want to get these young students interested in doing well in school,” Parker said. “That’s why we’re here.”

David Vice, general superintendent with McAbee, said welders are in high demand now in the construction industry across the country. Vice noted that many welders can make between $80,000 and $100,000 a year and that the work shouldn’t be considered male-only.

“Some of my best welders are female,” Vice said.

Donna Nash, counselor for the Calhoun County Career Academy, which handles the career tech programs for the county school system, said the expo is extremely beneficial for students.

“This gives all these students an idea for what is available in their region,” Nash said of the expo. “They get hands-on experience and learn about what they need to know after they graduate.”

Emily Gray, an eighth-grader with Zora Ellis Junior High School in Talladega, said she enjoyed the event, but particularly the EMS ambulance there.

“That sparked my interest ... that might be something I’d want to do,” Gray said, adding that her mother was a nurse.

Gray’s mother, Meg Gray, who attended the expo as a chaperone, said the event was a great opportunity for students.

“Kids are only exposed to what their parents do,” she said. “This gives them something different and that exposure I think is important.”

Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.