Thousands of 8th graders attend West TN career expo

Published: Mar. 3, 2022 at 6:05 PM CST
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RIPLEY, Tenn. (WMC) - It’s still a new concept for West Tennessee, but business leaders are beginning to see the promise that comes from hosting career expos for 8th grade students.

For this particular expo in Ripley, it’s the second time this kind of event has been hosted.

“It’s about training and development. It’s about thinking of our future employees,” said Liliana Ramirez, the Global Director for learning and development for Ford Motor Company.

Ramirez made her third trip to Tennessee after the announcement of the Blue Oval City manufacturing facility that will be built in Haywood County.

Many of the students, around 3,000 according to organizers, are from Haywood County, as well as Tipton and Lauderdale.

For Ford, workforce development is important, and to see that it’s equally important for Tennessee was “refreshing” for Ramirez.

“When (the eighth graders) graduate, we are going to be beginning to produce our vehicles, so it’s extremely important to capture their minds and their hearts in this moment today so that they can become our future workforce,” Ramirez said.

Ford was not alone in this hiring expo.

Roughly 60 local companies and public entities like FedEx, Ripley Power & Light, and Dyersburg State Community College, to name a few, had displays for students.

“It’s mind-blowing,” said Kylan Castro, an 8th grader at Haywood Middle School.

“It’s an amazing sight to see,” echoed Jentezen Mora, another Haywood Middle School 8th grader. “When you see all of these companies, big companies like FedEx and Ford, all of that here to give us an opportunity to see what our future could look like.”

The idea of the expo is to give students at a young age an idea of what is available to them, opportunity-wise, on a local level and that success doesn’t necessarily have to mean an education at a university.

“That’s why we’re focusing on the eighth graders,” said Maurice Gaines, Mayor of Lauderdale County. “It gives them time to make it through high school to get their certifications that they may need to be successful when they graduate because we all know now that plumbers and electricians and carpenters, they’re the ones making the big money.”

“It’s no longer just about that four-year degree or that masters. It’s about certificates and accreditation and stackable programs,” Ramirez said. “We are looking at the entire pipeline sot that we can begin to prepare the workforce for these jobs in Blue Oval City.”

To help measure the impact of events like this, Ramirez said Ford HR in Tennessee will be setting up a communication program to ask future applicants on what called them to apply for any specific Ford job and if a career expo was part of their decision.

“It gives me a big boost of confidence,” said Mora. “You know, there’s a lot of people who finish high school and don’t know what they want to do. We’re being given this opportunity to have each of one of our mindsets ready for what we’re going to do after high school.”

With events like this and allowing local companies to tap into their local labor force, company reps and local leaders alike are excited at the prospect of having these students decide to stay, grow, and give back to their communities in West Tennessee.

Though this is only the second time a hiring expo like this has been held in Ripley, we’re already told plans are in place for one next year, and it’s said to be even bigger and better.

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