Missouri Governor Mike Parson (top) opened the Virtual Career Expo sessions. Two of the first sessions (middle and bottom) included NEBA leaders and speakers who drew between 75 and 100 students for each 40-minute presentation.
Conducted via Zoom videoconferencing, the six-hour event featured 24 online presentations covering 14 career areas. Although NEBA has drawn thousands of students to past in-person fairs, the 2020 event was moved online and represented a dramatic change for NEBA volunteers. The results were beyond expectations.
“We are thrilled with how our inaugural NEBA Career Expo went,” noted Brett Kisker, expo co-chair and Executive Director of the Northland CAPS program. “We learned that this approach can be very impactful. We’re looking to host more like it in the future!”
An indication of the success was the often intense interaction between panelists and nearly 100 students for each program. A good example was Renee Reeves, a self-employed graphic artist who spoke about entrepreneurship and starting a business.
“I was surprised and very pleased at how engaged the questions were,” Reeves recalled. “I was expecting the normal, run-of-the-mill topics, but they were looking for in-depth answers. It was very impressive.”
The sessions opened with a recorded message from Missouri Governor Mike Parson, who has made workforce development a priority. “We want you to find a career in Missouri,” Parson said. “We believe in you.”
The Expo’s range of fields was impressive: healthcare, agriculture, journalism, digital media, education, government and public administration, hospitality and tourism, manufacturing, construction, transportation and logistics, engineering and business management and information technology. With a focus on local speakers for local students, the program emphasized growing opportunities in the Northland and Greater Kansas City. More than 50 area businesses were represented.
Running 40 minutes each hour from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the sessions proved that the students are often much more than just passive observers. In the Careers in Small Business & Development program, one student had already begun selling products online and asked for advice on how to expand that. The speakers’ answers were representative of the program’s purpose to educate and encourage students. Susan Brown, Business Solutions Relationship manager at Central Bank of the Midwest, recommended not trying to be perfect. “One of the mistakes I made when I was young was feeling I had to know it all,” she said. “One of my superpowers now is not being afraid to look stupid!”
Her co-speaker, Davin Gordon, Senior Business Development officer at AltCap, recommended recordkeeping. “Start keeping track of all your income and expenses,” he said. “Banks and organizations like ours want to see what the risks are, so establishing those good behaviors is important now.”
Another session focused on Careers in Logistics & Economic Development, with Adam Hill, president and CEO Scarbrough International, Ltd., and Chris Gutierrez, president of KC SmartPort. Hill agreed that logistics is not a field that high school students may think of, but it contains opportunities that are growing rapidly in this region. “It’s a massive industry that no one knows about,” he said. The dialogue also included everything from internships to the value of high school courses even those that may not immediately appear relative to a future job.
NEBA recorded all of the sessions and will make them available online shortly. Several noted the Zoom format was very successful, in some ways more effective than in-person gatherings.
One of the speakers agreed. “It’s so encouraging they took to this in a virtual platform,” Reeves noted. “The fact that they did this kept the students safe, the speakers safe and the NEBA staff safe and it made for a great program. That’s really inspiring.”
Recordings of each session are available on the NEBA YoutTube Channel.