Unlocking the potential of college and career fairs
Working with community stakeholders can ensure a more successful opportunity fair
Student talking to recruiter at career fair
Today, more than ever, finding a path into college or a career can be daunting. In order to support students through this transition, counseling programs can help students explore pathways for college and career options. Guidance counseling services play a critical role in the ability of school districts and county offices of education to provide all students with a high-quality education. When effectively staffed and supported, district and county office counseling services are an integral part of meeting the social and emotional health needs of students. Additionally, counselors are responsible for guiding students academically while in K-12 education and beyond, helping them to identify their skills, passions and interests, including identifying college and career options that fit each student’s unique skills.

Recognizing this value, Assembly Bill 643 (Ramos, D-Highland), “encourages districts to provide students with opportunities to explore, make career choices and seek appropriate instruction and training to support those choices by hosting apprenticeship fair events, such as college and career fairs.” High-quality apprenticeship programs are often an overlooked transition into a career and AB 643 aims to address that by requiring a district that is hosting a college and career fair (“opportunity fair”) to notify apprenticeship programs in their community. By inviting these apprenticeship programs to participate, districts will be better equipped to share with their students a wider range of careers, and students will benefit from the exposure to alternative career paths.

Hosting an opportunity fair
Hosting an opportunity fair can seem like another big project for already busy counselors and educators. However, the insights students can gain from learning about the possibilities available to them can be life altering, and well worth the extra effort. In order to keep from overwhelming staff, it is important to partner with community stakeholders. One great place to start is with parents and guardians, many of whom want to know more about the options available for their child(ren) and to ensure there are as many options as possible. For this reason, parents and guardians often embrace the opportunity to contribute to the planning and hosting of an opportunity fair. Additionally, reaching out to local community colleges, universities and armed forces recruitment centers can be helpful. These organizations often play a critical role in recruiting students and are eager for the chance to connect with them. Similarly, apprenticeship programs often have staff dedicated to recruitment and can provide resources to plan and host opportunity fairs.

Once a district has recruited a wide range of stakeholders, next is the important task of planning. A highly effective opportunity fair that is well attended by colleges, apprenticeship programs, military services and students requires preparation. Fortunately, much of this work can be done effectively by a leadership team, and it can be especially helpful to identify leaders with experience planning events.

Once that team is established, the planning process begins with identifying the scope and goals of the event, including the outcomes a district is hoping to achieve from an opportunity fair. Next, secure a date and location and develop an invite list. A brief brainstorm session by stakeholders usually results in a broad range of college and career opportunities that would be worth considering. Another option is to create a brief survey for families and students requesting what organizations they would like to see at an opportunity fair. If done electronically, this list can be effectively compiled and further increase community buy-in.

Watching students find interest in even just one aspect of the fair that aligns with their interests and passions will make it all worth it.

Often these stakeholders will know of other programs in the area that may have otherwise been overlooked. Ensuring active participation by a wide range of students requires some promotion. An effective engagement strategy is reaching out to student government or other leadership groups to receive input on effective promotional strategies and potential incentives that can ensure all students are aware and excited to learn more about the opportunities available to them. Watching students find interest in even just one aspect of the fair that aligns with their interests and passions is rewarding.

Board members can help set a foundation for opportunity fairs by reviewing policy that covers this topic. CSBA is in the process of updating sample Board Policy 6164.2 – Guidance/Counseling Services and BP 6178 – Career Technical Education, to include the requirements pursuant to AB 643 for schools planning to hold an opportunity fair, which districts and county offices of education can expect to see in the September Policy Packet. For districts that are looking for more local resources, information about approved apprenticeship programs in your area can be found at www.dir.ca.gov/databases/das/aigstart.asp.