SALISBURY – Nearly 1,000 eighth-grade students and 95 exhibitors gathered at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center this week for a hands-on career exploration event.
On Tuesday, Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore hosted its inaugural JA Inspire event. Throughout the course of the day, eighth-grade students from Wicomico County schools interacted with the Eastern Shore’s top industry professionals to learn about various career paths.
Jayme Hayes, president of Junior Achievement, said the goal of JA Inspire is to educate students on the various job opportunities available to them on the Eastern Shore, as well as the skills needed to fill them.
“We have 3,000 that are unemployed and 3,000 that are unable to take those open jobs,” she said. “There’s a skill gap.”
Leading up to Tuesday’s event, Hayes said eighth-grade students spent time in the classroom learning about the needs of the community, completing a career analysis, and understanding their own strengths. She added that they also prepared questions to ask employers at the fair.
“They are actually going to engage with employers and ask them what skills they need, what the salary is,” she said. “We are planting the seed in eighth grade and hopefully seeing the fruits of our labor in five years when they graduate.”
The event featured nearly 1,000 eighth-grade students, 250 volunteers, 95 exhibitors and nearly 200 high school students, who participated in a separate career fair on site. Industries represented on Tuesday included agriculture, business, communications, arts, information technology, education, law, human services, health services, hospitality and food, manufacturing and the skilled trades, utility and transportation.
“This is, by far, the largest event that Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore has put on in the history of my 13 years [here],” Hayes said.
Mike Dunn, president and CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee, said the idea is to inspire eighth-grade students as they begin to think about their professional futures.
“Who knows how many lightbulbs are going to go off in these heads this morning,” he said. “They are going to walk out of here and go, ‘You know what, I think I want to be an ‘x’ when I grow up.’ That’s what this is all about.”
But Hayes said the inspiration doesn’t stop there. She explained that Junior Achievement has partnered with local universities to make their dreams a reality.
“We’ve partnered with local universities to create educational pathways,” she said. “They help students to understand what they need to do to acquire those jobs.”
County Executive Bob Culver said he was proud to witness the community event.
“This is what’s so special about Wicomico County,” he said, “to see this many people come together to help raise our children.”
Salisbury Mayor Jake Day told exhibitors the event demonstrates the many opportunities that are available on the Eastern Shore.
“There are some young people … who are saying to themselves ‘To succeed, to thrive, I’ve got to get off the Eastern Shore,’” he said. “Prove to them they’re wrong.”
Superintendent Donna Hanlin said JA Inspire was an example of the instructional experiences that Wicomico County Public Schools wishes to provide students.
“JA Inspire allows our imaginations, in part, to become a reality,” she said.
Kelly Schulz, Maryland’s Secretary of Commerce, applauded JA staff and the many professionals and volunteers for their vision.
“You can’t have economic development unless you have workforce development,” she said.
With a state unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, Schulz said employers are constantly seeking skilled professionals to fill jobs. She noted JA Inspire aims to seek and retain homegrown talent.
“This is not just a career fair today,” she said. “This is a life fair.”