With hands-on sessions that allowed students to practice tying tourniquets, pilot a virtual reality simulator to control a construction-site excavator and unfasten lug nuts with an impact wrench, this year’s Southcentral Kentucky LAUNCH Experience took on the air of a carnival Friday.
More than 3,000 eighth graders from Bowling Green and the surrounding region cycled through Knicely Conference Center during the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce’s fourth career expo, which stands for Learning About Unique and New Careers Here.
Along the way, students representing 14 school districts got up-close looks at high-demand job sectors the effort spotlights, including health care, professional services, public services, construction, manufacturing, hospitality and transportation, distribution and logistics.
But the event is more than just a field trip, according to Sandra Baker, the chamber’s education and workforce director.
Even before students step off their bus and arrive at the event, Baker said they work through a curriculum that aims to equip them with a conversational understanding of high-demand job sectors and the career possibilities they present.
“When they walk in, they already have an idea of what each sector is,” Baker said. “They can say, ‘Oh, well I’m interested in being an engineer. Maybe I’ll go over here and talk to somebody at Bendix or Henkel,’ ” Baker said, referring to two local manufacturers.
Leading up to the event, students research careers, complete aptitude tests and are tasked with reflecting on their experience after the event.
“We hope that when they go into high school they’ll have a good idea of what sector they’re interested in and choose a career pathway in high school because something here sparked an interest in them,” Baker said.
That was the case for South Warren Middle School student Matthew Hagan, who’s thinking about a career as a veterinarian but explored the expo to see “if my career ideas will change,” he said.
Matthew and his classmates took the opportunity to use a large impact wrench to unfasten and reattach lug nuts on a free-standing metal bar, one of the event’s noisiest and most popular attractions.
“I’m not really into construction. I just wanted to test it,” he said.
For Jason Priddy, a field technician with local Caterpillar dealership Whayne Supply Co., it was a chance to peel back the curtain hanging over his high-skill job.
“It kind of gives them an idea of this is what we do … working with tools, working with your hands ... ,” he said. “It maybe gives them an idea of, ‘Hey, maybe this is something I want to do.’ ”
At another station, South Warren Middle School’s Julie Goodwin climbed out of the seat of a virtual reality simulator that allowed her to manipulate the arm of a construction-site excavator. An instructor talked her through using its controls to lower the bucket, scoop up a pile of dirt and dump it elsewhere.
“The amount of precision it takes to get it in the bucket and scoop it up, I just thought it was very interesting,” Julie said.
But for a career, however, Julie finds health care more intriguing. She’d like to be a doctor and is considering joining the U.S. Army after school to get help paying for college, she said.
Still, she appreciated the chance to experience other possible futures.
“I think it’s pretty cool. It’s very interactive, which I love because that’s how I learn,” she said. “I just love that you can experience different areas. You have time to really take in everything from each area.”
Heading into high school, SCK LAUNCH and the experience around it has helped her start off on the right foot, Julie said.
“This is helping us take a step forward into our career,” she said.