By Shannon Carr
Board Support & Communications Specialist
Approximately 40 students from Milpitas and Calaveras Hills high schools were among more than 200 from school districts around the county who attended the Santa Clara County Office of Education Annual 2017 WorkAbility Youth Job and Career Fair on March 17.
“It’s nerve wracking but it’s pretty fun,” Trinity Bocanegra, a junior from Milpitas High School said that morning. “I thought it would be fun to just get myself out there.”
When Trinity arrived with the other Milpitas students that morning, they convened in a smaller room with Elyde Torres, Career Services Coordinator with Expandability from Goodwill Silicon Valley. Elyde walked the students through everything they needed to know in order to be prepared for the job fair that followed. This included asking how many students brought a resume that day to sharing how to dress for a job fair or interview (asking those who modeled the right attire that day to stand up); having volunteers participate in a mock interview, emphasizing the importance of smiling, eye contact, and a firm handshake; encouraging students to know what type of job they want before applying; and sharing the importance of follow-up phone calls.
Following the meeting, the students were released to the event, which offered students a chance to put their practice into action.
“This has been such a phenomenal experience every year for these kids,” said Suzanne Moffett, a Special Education teacher at Milpitas High School.
The event offers students an opportunity to learn job interview skills, get professional assistance with resumes and cover letters, and interview with Bay Area employers including Safeway, City of Milpitas, Home Depot, and Shoreline Amphitheatre.
“This year, this has been a very good experience watching these kids,”Suzanne said, added that each students’ assignment that morning was to speak with at least three employers and she was impressed by the enthusiasm she was witnessing.
Employees from the Shoreline Amphitheatre table pinpointed student Vinh Huynh when he walked into the fair, dressed in a black suit and carrying a portfolio, saying he was “dressed for success.” Within 30 minutes, he was hired on the spot.
“This is a great way to connect students to opportunities,” said Bill Allen, Guest Services Manager with Shoreline Amphitheatre. Just one hour into the fair, he shared his excitement for hiring four Milpitas students that day. Those who were at least 16 years old had job opportunities as ticket takers at the front gate and for for those 18 and older, there were job assignments as an usher or part of the security team.
While Milpitas students have participated in the annual fair for five years, Suzanne shared her pleasure in how Annette Rodarte, Vocational Specialist with Milpitas High School’s WorkAbility program, has enabled any special education student that was interested in practicing applications, introducing themselves with a handshake, and and participating in mock interviews with Cisco staff beforehand.
“It’s a confidence builder just having a mock interview before they get here,” Suzanne said, “because they know how to project their voice, and give a firm handshake as opposed to a weak handshake.”
Annette said setting special education students up for multiple ways to succeed at a job fair is important, especially given the unemployment data. In 2015, 17.5 percent of persons with a disability were employed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 65 percent.
WorkAbility is a California school and community transition program working to benefit student, employers, and the community at large by providing secondary special education students transition services and the opportunity to obtain marketable job skills while completing their education.