Indy employers to blitz 8th-graders with career choices at JobSpark

More than 7,000 Marion County eighth-graders will visit the Indiana State Fairgrounds Sept. 29-30 for a new program designed to get their wheels turning on potential careers.

The program, JA JobSpark, is being organized by Junior Achievement of Central Indiana, with help from some 3,000 volunteers from more than 115 local employers.

The goals: to introduce kids to career options in a hands-on environment, and to get them excited about their futures.

“This is truly a city-wide collaboration,” said Sherrie Bossung, director of community outreach at Eli Lilly and Co., one of the participating employers. Lilly alone will have 1,300 employees volunteering at the event.

At the event, students will visit eight areas, each representing an industry “cluster” like technology, business/finance and hospitality/tourism. Within each area, participating employers will present hands-on and educational experiences for the students.

For example, in the architecture/engineering/construction area, students will learn about the Indiana Pacers practice facility currently under construction near Bankers Life Fieldhouse. They’ll put on hard hats, get a chance to try their masonry skills, and sign a steel beam that will be installed in the actual structure.

Employers representing the health/life sciences cluster will recreate an operating room setup. They’ll also have spaces devoted to medical research and development; rehabilitation and sports medicine; and emergency medicine.

“Some of these organizations are competitors, but on this event we are working together,” said Joyce Hertko, director of community outreach and engagement at IU Health, which is bringing 900 volunteers to the event. “People have been incredibly creative.”

One goal, Hertko and Bossung said, is to open students’ eyes to the range of opportunities at local employers.

“Not everyone’s going to be a neurosurgeon, and that’s good, right? We need people who are going to be nurses and we need people who are going to be in environmental services, and techs,” Hertko said.

Junior Achievement’s President and CEO, Jennifer Burk, said the event is targeting eighth graders because that stage is such a critical time for career exploration. If students don’t have a post-graduation plan once they enter high school, Burk said, those students are at higher risk of dropping out.

“The broader vision is to impact high-school graduation rates, to reduce dropout rates, to expose every child, if we can, to opportunities they can get excited about for their future,” Burk said.

This is a first-time event in Indianapolis, modeled after similar events held in Mobile, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; and Portland, Oregon.

JA plans to continue JobSpark as an annual Indianapolis event, Burk said.

In this first year, the program is limited to Marion County eighth graders. Burk said about 7,300 students are expected to attend – mostly from public schools, but also some from private and parochial schools.

That number represents a good chunk of the county’s eighth-grade students.

According to the Indiana Department of Education, Marion County’s 11 public school districts have a combined eighth-grade enrollment of 9,381 students. This number does not include charter, private and parochial schools.

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