CEFGA’s Flagship Event Celebrates Move to New Home at Georgia World Congress Center
Public health concerns over the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the cancellation of Day 2 of the 2020 CEFGA CareerExpo and SkillsUSA State Championships. Still, CEFGA’s progress in introducing middle school, high school and college students to the skilled trades was clear.
- More than 9,000 attendees pre-registered for the March 12-13 event, a new record.
- More than 6,000 middle school, high school, and technical college students were included in that registration.
- More than 300 companies were represented, and nearly 200,000 square feet of exhibit and competition space was reserved at the Georgia World Congress Center.
- The event’s move to the GWCC, the third-largest convention space in the United States, was necessitated by having outgrown its previous home at the Georgia International Convention Center in College Park.
“While we were devastated by the decision we had to make to cancel Day 2, we were thankful for the opportunity to see our new space in action,” said CEFGA President & CEO Scott Shelar. “Our sponsors, exhibitors, staff and volunteers stepped up to meet the challenge of creating the biggest and best CareerExpo ever. And our school leaders, teachers and students showed up with their never-ending energy and enthusiasm. We look forward to taking lessons learned from this year and making the 2021 CareerExpo and SkillsUSA Georgia Championships even bigger and better.”
Several new features were on display, including a World of Water that joined the other Worlds representing various construction-related disciplines; and CEFGA’s World of Interviews, where the K12 Pipeline team helped connect students with employers to discuss potential job, apprenticeship and internship opportunities (see sidebar).
“Overall I’ve seen a mindset change toward the positive for our industry,” said Rod Owen, President of Jonesboro’s C.C. Owen Tile Company and a participant in the K12 World of Interviews. “I’ve started to see a difference … [especially with] teachers and counselors being a lot more open to the trades as a career.”
Those teachers and counselors and other leaders certainly play a key role in helping students consider construction as a career option. And for their part, more employers are recognizing the need to connect with students as they address the consequences of an aging and dwindling workforce.
“I think one of the key things for all of us to be successful is to try and backfill the labor shortage that we are currently experiencing,” said Swinerton Operations Manager Paul Nielsen, whose company helped sponsor the World of Safety that greeted students upon entering the CareerExpo floor. “With the growth of Atlanta continuing to boom, we’re going to need to have those positions filled, so organizations like CEFGA and opportunities like this for students to come out and see what other options are out there are going to be key for us.”
At the World of Electrical Contacting, Allison-Smith Company Vice-President Michael Mikko also was talking to students about options.
“This event is good for construction because it has all the trades out here, and for the kids coming out here, it opens their eyes to see all the different things they can do,” Mikko said. “People don’t realize the money that they can make in this industry. So I think it’s very beneficial that they get a first-hand look and talk to contractors and employees directly and see what their options are.”
The new World of Water, sponsored by the Georgia Association of Water Professionals, represented another discipline students could learn about and consider for potential careers.
“We have so many water professionals who work out in the field in the trades, so we thought this was a great opportunity to get students interested in water and show them how they can be a part of protecting the environment and also protecting the health of their community by working in the water profession,” said Kim Holland, Director of Operations for Marietta Water.
Another message for students is that a college degree is not necessarily required to succeed in the construction industry. Opportunities abound for graduates right out of high school, including apprenticeship programs and other paid on-the-job training.
“Our initiative for workforce development is to educate people that construction is a very lucrative industry,” said Sandy Swanson, Manager of Human Resources for Holder Construction Company, “and that while having a degree for some people is great, that you don’t always need a degree to be successful.”
Despite the CareerExpo’s abbreviated hours this year, plenty of students still had the opportunity to explore the 16 Worlds and interact with a variety of employers. As Holder’s Swanson noted, it’s all about those one-on-one conversations that might plant a seed in a student’s mind – “You never know who you’re going to touch,” she said.
Added Owen: “I think we’re making a difference. You’re not going to change the mindset or culture over one event or one year; it’s going to take time to swing that pendulum, but I think we’re seeing that swing. If at any time someone is going to jump on board and be part of this, I think now is the time.”