By PETE DELEA
Daily News-Record 12/18/18
HARRISONBURG — Like many high school seniors, 16-year-old Irene Liu faces the challenge of picking her future career.
To help with that, Harrisonburg and Rockingham County schools joined together Monday for the inaugural “Rockingham-Harrisonburg Works” working luncheon held at the James Madison University Festival Conference and Student Center.
The luncheon gave Liu, who attends Harrisonburg High School, a chance to sit in on discussions with several of the Harrisonburg area’s top employers. The event also gave area businesses an opportunity to speak to potential workers, something of increased importance given the nearly historic tight labor marker, especially
in many blue-collar fields.
“It might help me figure out what field I want to go into,” she said.
Liu was among 425 juniors and seniors to attend the event, which featured roughly 55 businesses.
Eric Fitzgerald, director of career and technical education for Rockingham County Public Schools, said the idea for the luncheon developed after meeting with local employers.
Those discussions, Fitzgerald said, made school officials realize that many students don’t have connections to area businesses or know what jobs are available.
“There’s a need in our community, in our state and our nation for employees,” he told students Monday. “They’re looking for good employees. Without [the students], that’s not going to happen.”
Both divisions’ school superintendents also spoke at the lunch.
“We want to have activities that let students experience real world, hands-on learning,” said Oskar Scheikl, Rockingham County Public Schools superintendent. “We take it seriously.”
Patrick Lintner, Harrisonburg City Public Schools’ interim superintendent, said he was eager to see students form relationships.
“I’m excited for all the employers to get to meet our students and see the skills that they bring,” Lintner said.
Turner Ashby High School senior Shelvin Arey, 17, said the event was a learning experience.
“It’s really helpful to make connections and build interviewing skills,” Arey said. “You get to learn what you need to do to prepare for the future.”
Fellow TA senior Hope Showalter, 17, said you never know who you might meet during the lunch.
“You’re getting to talk to what could be your future employer,” Showalter said.
Noe Delgado, 17, an HHS senior, said that although he plans on going to college, it was interesting to find out what careers don’t need post-high school education.
“There’s opportunities if you don’t go to college,” Delgado said.
Jeff Staple, human resource manager at Shickel Corp., was among the business leaders to meet with the students. Shickel, a Bridgewater-based company, specializes in the design, fabrication and installation of custom metal products.
Staple said it’s important to meet with the students as they are figuring out what they want to do in life.
“The students are the future workforce,” he said. “These are the people we will be trying to hire.”
Harrisonburg High School senior Irene Liu, 16, listens as WHSV news director Jay Webb talks to her table during the inaugural Harrisonburg-Rockingham Works on Monday at James Madison University’s Festival Conference and Student Center.