The more than 2,000 eighth-graders who participated in the FORGE Foundation’s career expo last week were double the participation of previous years, foundation representatives told the Rotary Club of Columbus on Tuesday.
The event at the East Mississippi Community College Communiversity hosted students from 18 schools in eight area counties over two days, Katie McCrary and Christee Holbrook reported to Rotarians gathered at Lion Hills Center. It offered real-world experience with heavy equipment and tools used for skilled trades, as opposed to just reading about them in a book. It was the foundation’s third expo since 2019.
“We (FORGE) realized these kids weren’t putting their hands on anything that we do,” McCrary said. “They saw it in their books and their coursework, but they’re not actually putting their hands on those dozers, or concrete or roofing or anything like that. And we thought about how can they get excited about it; how can they decide this is something they want to do if they don’t try it.”
FORGE, which stands for Family Organizations Recruiting Great Employees, was founded in 2018 by a group of local companies involved in the construction industry — Graham Roofing, APAC, West Brothers Construction, Burns Dirt Construction and McCrary-West Construction. Since then, membership has grown to 13 companies, including larger corporate partners like PACCAR.
Its mission is to promote more construction and technical skills jobs in the state by working with local school districts’ career-tech programs and the EMCC.
Since 2018, FORGE members have worked with high schools by providing seminars to students on skills they look for in prospective employees, donating equipment and launching a civil engineering course at EMCC in 2020, Holbrook said.
McCrary told The Dispatch that as a result, more students have begun applying to jobs at FORGE-associated companies. The brand recognition of those businesses has also increased because employees are getting in the classrooms.
“We do see a definite increase in applications from students exiting the CTE (career technical education) programs and a brand recognition of our businesses that we haven’t seen in the past,” she said.
West Brothers General Manager Rob Winklepleck said his company has hired several high school graduates from CTE programs.
“We hired three 18-year-olds at the end of May, all career-tech students from Lowndes County School District,” Winklepleck said. “And we gave one of them his first raise Friday, and he was thrilled.”
More than 100 employees from area businesses were vendors at the expo.
Burns Dirt Vice President of Operations and Contracting Nic Parish said the event also helps to increase their employees’ community engagement.
“It makes them feel better about what they do for a living and also gets them involved with the students,” Parish said.
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