Middle-school students spent a day this month learning what it would be like to work at Charlotte Motor Speedway – part of a statewide initiative to let young people see the nuts and bolts of 21st-century workplaces.
On March 5, about 50 eighth-graders from Harold E. Winkler Middle School in Concord attended Students@Work, an event aimed to help students connect what they’re learning in school to the workplace someday.
The event was sponsored by the North Carolina Business Committee for Education, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization of corporate leaders interested in preparing youths for the workplace after graduation.
“There is life after school,” said Tim Hagler, vice president of community relations at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I think it’s good for kids to actually see some opportunities for once they get out of school.”
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About 45 businesses representing the state’s range of industries – from pharmaceuticals to technology to sports entertainment – hosted students through the annual program, held March 2-6 this year.
This was Charlotte Motor Speedway’s second year participating in the event.
While some businesses offer narrower career opportunities because they’re geared toward specific fields, Charlotte Motor Speedway requires positions in a variety of fields, from sports marketing to hospitality to trades including electricians and plumbers.
“There’s 14 people that do nothing but mow grass during the summer, from 8-5,” Shaun Johnson, director of operations in sports entertainment for the speedway, told the students during the event. “There’s 2,200 acres, 90 percent of which needs to be mowed.”
The speedway holds events – from rock concerts to races, job fairs for veterans to Easter brunches – 300 days of the year.
“There’s a big gamut here that’s under one roof,” which makes the speedway an ideal place to visit for students unsure of what they want to do after graduation, Hagler said.
“A lot of these kids don’t know what they want to do when they grow up, so we want to take them somewhere where they actually see people working,” said Lynsey Smith, a career and technical education teacher at Winkler school.
Students@Work focuses on middle-school students, particularly eighth-graders: the age when school dropout-prevention methods are most effective, educational experts say. It’s also the time students need to begin considering what kinds of courses they’ll take in high school.
There is a bigger selection of educational paths for high school students today than in the past. Some curricula lead to four-year colleges, while others prepare students for specific trades. Exposing students to what’s available in today’s workplace will help them better prepare in high school to become the kind of workforce needed.
Whatever career path a person chooses, Hagler told the students, it needs to be enjoyable.
“Teachers can guide you, and you want to listen to your teachers and your parents, but you also want to listen to your heart,” said Hagler, “You want to be somewhere where you want to get up every morning and go to every day.”
Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Lisa? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on the North Carolina Business Committee for Education and Students@Work, visit www.ncbce.org.