Wiregrass Gives Back: Worlds of Work setting students up for success

The event provides exposure to career choices in the area, and for years they have successfully given back to the Wiregrass.
Published: Oct. 20, 2022 at 3:28 PM CDT
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) - It’s an event that helps set thousands of students up for success in the workforce each year.

The Southeast Worlds of Work (WOW) is an event that provides exposure to career choices in the area, and for years they have successfully given back to the Wiregrass.

“We want them to see what all is available here, so they will want to stay here, or if they go to college they will want to come back here,” Melanie Hill, program manager with Southeast Alabama Works, said.

Retention. That’s the mission of Southeast Worlds of Work to maintain a well-working Wiregrass.

“It’s hard to find the workforce right now and I think from what we’re seeing and the trends we’re seeing it’s going to be hard in the future,” Hill said.

WOW is not your typical career fair. 12 Worlds of Work are showcased including aviation, education, and health care.

“You see a lot of light bulbs come on, you see a lot of conversation,” Hill said.

This year’s event the grade levels are changing from 8th graders to seniors in high school and 10th-grade career tech students. Through a new tool available this upcoming year there will be more follow-up opportunities.

However, the goal of providing students with early exposure and exploration of careers through hands-on experience remains the same.

“Our healthcare world is really, really big,” Hill said.

“Flowers Hospital before has brought the robotic surgery instrument, Southeast Health has brought their robots, they bring nurses, the kids do CPR, they do lots of different things that are represented of the world. In manufacturing, people have brought their big equipment to show off and let the kids get in there. The utility worlds they bring in literally set up the poles and kids flip breakers. It really does expose the student and opens their mind to what they can be.”

Covering a 10-county area between 80 and 90 businesses will talk to students face to face and recruit and that number is expected to grow this year.

“WOW has been a tremendous enhancement to our more traditional student engagement and career development partnerships that we have with our local schools and communities,” Ginger Dean, industrial account manager at Alabama Power, said. “We are regularly inside classrooms, meeting with students, sharing our career experiences, but WOW experience has just opened up and brought in our exposure to these students we get to impact 3000 students that come through annually so it’s really just giving us an opportunity to provide exposure to so many more students that we might not be able to reach otherwise.”

WOW is working to change students’ perspectives and bring awareness of careers they may not know to exist.

“We have about 20 or 21 career coaches that go into the schools, they are helping these students decide, they are these helping students figure out what’s best for them, and so we get the follow-up,” Hill said. “They come back and they say, ‘Hey y’all, I talked to a student today and they are going to be a so and so because of WOW.’”

Josh Cardwell is one of those stories.

“It gave me a chance and my classmates a chance to go and see the careers in the area and kind of narrow down what I wanted to do,” Cardwell, a utility assistant at Alabama Power, said.

During a time of uncertainty of what career path to choose, Cardwell went to WOW in 8th grade.

“I remember just walking for hours looking at all of the different careers and it kind of helps you break down and see, ‘Oh, well that’s pretty cool,’ or something you might have wanted to do that you said, ‘Oh, well I really didn’t want to do that,’” Cardwell said.

When he saw the Alabama Power booth, he said he immediately gained interest and hit the ground running. He later interned at the company and was offered a full-time job and said he loves the career path he chose, all thanks to WOW.

“It’s different every day,” Cardwell said.

His hard work does not go unnoticed.

“He’s a very great success story for someone who proactively sought out these opportunities and now he’s able to work in the field of this choice and excelling in what he’s doing,” Dean said.

WOW East will be held on February 15th and 16th of 2023. Between WOW East and WOW West, the fair is expecting 5,000 students.

If you are a business interested in setting up a booth, you can contact Melanie Hill to secure your booth by emailing her at: mhill@southeastalabamaworks.com or calling her at (334)596-9145.

To learn more about WOW, click here.

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