Junior Achievement lets kids dip into the world of job hunting
Eighth-grader Alex Novelli, from Our Lady of Grace School in Scott, represents a State Farm agent while talking with fifth-graders during the Pittsburgh's Future ... Now! Job Fair sponsored by Junior Achievement at Duquesne University.
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The 600 fifth-graders at Junior Achievement's Pittsburgh's Future ... Now! Job Fair did what nearly everyone else at a job fair does: They walked from table to table, talking to recruiters and scoring free stuff.
The difference was, they weren't actually looking for jobs. Instead they were asking questions that would qualify them for raffle tickets to win T-shirts.
Wednesday's job fair was designed to introduce young people to the concept of looking for work. It was also meant to give older students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades the chance to sell the companies they were representing to the younger attendees.
The booths that did the best business had the best free stuff: Alcosan had pencils; Giant Eagle had beach balls, pens, notepads and paper hats; Raccoon Creek State Park gave out maps; Port Authority distributed a guide to riding the buses; State Farm Insurance passed out magnets, water bottles, cups and pens (that booth was really busy) and UPMC gave out Dum Dum lollipops.
"How hard is it to drive a bus compared to a regular car?" asked Gibran Biswas, who, as an 11-year-old fifth grade student from Pittsburgh Montessori School, is too young to drive either.
"That's a good question," Michelle Ramsey, an employee administrator, said as she handed him a raffle ticket. The answer was that she doesn't actually drive a bus, but she hears it is like a car, only a whole lot bigger.
After listening to John Rutkauskas, an eighth grader at Our Lady of Grace School in Scott, anyone would want to work for State Farm Insurance.
Mr. Rutkauskas acted as a recruiter for the company and told the fifth graders crowding around that State Farm offers generous benefits: retirement, insurance, "and honestly, it's the vacation that's really great," which he quoted at 38 days a year.
He said State Farm also offers tuition reimbursement "so you can go to school and State Farm will pay for it."
He said the assembled young people to whom he was speaking should all go work for State Farm: "You can start with no skills and no education and still get a job." [Note to State Farm: My contact info is at the bottom of this story.]
Over at the UPMC booth, Alicia Dye, a fifth grader from Propel McKeesport, asked Meredith Bennett, a seventh grader from Penn-Trafford Middle School, how many hours she would have to work if she had a job at one of the hospitals. The number of hours worked was one of the key questions at every booth.
Ms. Bennett explained that employees can work full- or part-time. She said she was telling "job seekers" that employment is not limited to doctors.
"There's even chefs and housekeeping kinds of jobs so you can take care of the hospital and keep it safe," she said. [State Farm still has the edge.]
Over at the Pittsburgh Renaissance Hotel booth, Gavin Brown and Trenell Scott, both sixth graders from Pittsburgh Montessori, were selling all the different careers at the hotel, though it would have been better if they handed out little shampoo bottles or soaps.
Mr. Scott said employees can earn $11 to $18 an hour and he ran through a typed list of open positions: front desk, housekeeping, laundry, restaurant service, bartender, banquet house person, restaurant manager and cook.
When asked his own preference for employment at the hotel, Mr. Scott said, "I want to be a room service attendant or a cook." [He should check out the State Farm booth].
As the College Recruitment Coordinator for Giant Eagle, Mari Kakavis talks to a lot of students who are looking for jobs. She found the fifth graders ask a lot of the same questions as their older counterparts, particularly about benefits.
"They were very excited," she said. "They wanted to learn about stuff. They had a lot of good questions."
And, she said, they loved the free stuff, including the pens, which, she said, always go quickly.
Kiana Blackwell, 11, from East Hills, was at the fair with her class from Imani Christian Academy in East Hills. Her own aspirations are to work as a veterinarian at the zoo taking care of the lions and tigers.
Like the other children, she had a bag of swag and was blowing up a Giant Eagle beach ball when asked, "What's the best thing you got all day?"
Miss Blackwell smiled and said, "A chance to come here."
First Published May 3, 2012 3:36 pm