For the second year in a row, the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce will crash college night at Jefferson City High School.
JCHS has long held a college night each year featuring booths from regional universities, community colleges and technical colleges to inform students about their higher education choices. Last year, the chamber held its first career fair in conjunction with college night to reach out to students seeking to enter the workforce directly after high school.
In October 2016, 69.7 percent of 2016 high school graduates enrolled in colleges or universities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Missy Bonnot, director of economic development at the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce, said the career fair is designed to help the third who don't enroll.
"We were trying to figure out how to get companies in front of these students," Bonnot said. "What we're really trying to do is just expose them to opportunities in Jefferson City."
Bonnot said the career fair also shows students attending college night that opportunities exist in Jefferson City when they graduate from college.
"Once they go away to school, hopefully they'll think about coming back to Jefferson City and see we have opportunities for them back at home," Bonnot said.
More than 20 companies are signed up now to participate in the career fair, which will be 7-8:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at JCHS. Last year, about 40 companies from sectors including health care, manufacturing and IT participated in the career fair, and Bonnot thinks about that many will participate this year. Hundreds of students are expected to attend the college night and career fair.
"Everyone is hiring right now," Bonnot said. "It's just a good opportunity to get in front of those potential employees for the businesses."
The chamber held a hiring fair at JCHS in April for companies to hire students on the spot. The career fair, though, is meant to introduce students to jobs they may seek months or years from now after graduating high school. Still, the fairs are a key part of a plan created two years ago for local businesses to hire more students straight out of school.
Part of that plan involves coming to students through events like job and hiring fairs.
"We want to show them when they graduate they don't have to go to a McDonald's or Target, but if you go to Command Web or Delong's or Huber & Associates, there are positions that don't necessarily require a two- or four-year (degree)."
Another part of the plan created a job board that's now active on the chamber's website, where about 60 jobs are currently listed.
A committee intended to create an education council connecting Cole County high schools and employers is the only part of the plan not yet active or complete, but work on this initiative will begin again this winter, Bonnot said.
A big part of the plan involves educating high school counselors about opportunities for students who choose not to seek college, often leaving students with little help finding work after high school. Other programs created by the plan take students to manufacturers and workplaces throughout Jefferson City to introduce them to different types of jobs.
Career and hiring fairs also benefit companies struggling to fill open positions. Jefferson City had an unemployment rate of just 3.8 percent in August. Recruiting talent now is competitive, Bonnot said.
"A lot of people are hiring right now, and it's hard to find that workforce when our unemployment rate is that low," Bonnot said. "Ten years ago, you placed an ad somewhere, and that's all you had to do."
While the event is geared toward high school students, the career fair is free and open to the public.
"We won't turn anyone away," Bonnot said. "Anyone from the public that's looking for a job or thinking about changing a career, we would welcome them in."
Businesses interested in participating can contact Bonnot at the Jefferson City Area Chamber of Commerce or visit jcchamber.org/index.php?src=forms&ref=2017+Industry+Career+Fair&id=2017+Industry+Career+Fair.