Students examine options during college and career fair.

February 17, 2022

Students examine options during college and career fair.

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

SHELBY — Oceana County high school juniors got a close-up look at career and education options available after graduation during the Oceana College Access Network’s College and Career Fair Wednesday, Feb. 16, in the Shelby High School gym.

Wednesday’s college and career fair was Oceana CAN’s seventh annual event, said Network Coordinator Alyssa Merten. The Oceana CAN organization has also existed for seven years, “pulling partners together in the community to increase the amount of people who go to college or attain a credential after high school.”

Last year’s event was virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re happy to be back to in-person,” said Merten. Participants were encouraged to wear masks. 

“Our students need this. They need interaction with the community, and they also need to know that community members believe in them.”

Over 55 businesses, training centers, colleges and organizations participated in this year’s event, along with students from Shelby, Hart, Pentwater and Walkerville. “It’s mostly juniors with a couple seniors as well,” said Merten. “It’s about 220 students that come through.” Each group of students spent about an hour at the fair, talking to representatives.

The event is always held at Shelby, because the school has the largest gym to accommodate the crowds, said Merten.

“The idea is to help students understand what different types of careers are out there in the community, because oftentimes students don’t know what types of jobs are out there. It’s a great opportunity for the community to engage with students and help them think through what their path is after high school.”

Most of the businesses involved are locally-based or have local ties. “Almost all of them are in Oceana County or serve Oceana County,” said Merten.

“By having the colleges, careers and training centers all together, we want to help the students make the connection of what type of training is needed for some of these careers and where you can get that training. So, they’re all in one room, all in one space. They can talk to someone from MSU Extension and then go over on the other side and say, ‘Hey where do they have the careers they were just talking to me about?’

“When we say college, we’re talking about all post-secondary education, so everything from short-term certificate programs all the way to apprenticeships to skilled trades training to two-year degrees, four-year degrees and beyond. So, we have unions here; we have businesses; and we have colleges representing some careers. There is just a whole wide array of folks here.

“The feedback from the first six years has been really positive from students,” said Merten. “They really get a lot out of this. Once senior year happens, things happen really fast.”

Hart junior Trenton Swihart said he is undecided what path he will take after high school, but is looking at a lot of options. Trenton said he found the career fair helpful in exploring possibilities. “I’m still undecided,” said Hart junior Bryce Jorrisen. “I don’t quite know what I’m going to do yet. I might go to college, but I might not.”

Hart student Elaine Alvarez said she is considering attending West Shore Community College to pursue a degree in geology. Her friend Maria Mejia said she is also considering West Shore after high school. Paulina Ortega-Rubio said she is thinking about attending Michigan State University to pursue a degree in psychology. 

Paulina said she gained a lot of insight from the career fair. “It gives you a lot of options and gives you direction,” she said. 

John Coleman, an organizer of Local Union No. 7-SM, talked to students at the fair about opportunities offered by the union that includes sheet metal, air rail and transportation workers. “Our training center is in Fruitport for this area.

“You hear about jobs and careers in school but never get to physically see the people, meet them or introduce them face-to face,” said Coleman. “These people are here looking to hire. They’re here looking for you. Every one of these students walking in here has an opportunity to leave with, for sure.

“For our union in particular, all you have to have is a high school diploma or GED. We have a four-year apprenticeship program. After that, you have about 10,000 on-the-job training hours and you end up with 780 classroom hours. It’s all debt-free, and you come away with a department of labor certification.

“A first-year apprentice in this area is making $17.14 per hour with health care and benefits on top of that.” A 10 percent wage increase follows after each year. “At the end of the fourth year when you take your final test for your department of labor certification, the wages right now are $34.27 per hour.”

The training results in being “three or four credits away from an associate’s degree with no cost to you.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Coleman who began working in the sheet metal industry nearly 25 years ago. “I love it. I love the work. The people are great. It’s been life changing for me. College is great but it’s not for everybody.

“Right now we’re expecting nationally for an 8 percent increase in workers — just in sheet metal. We’re looking anywhere we can possibly find to fill that gap for people retiring.”

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