Portage High School career fair showcases high-tech job options
BY AMY LAVALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent October 3, 2013 4:18PM
Joel East, an engineer with Falk PLI, demonstrates a laser tracking device during a career day at Portage High School on Thursday, October 3, 2013. | Michael Gard/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 5, 2013 6:30AM
PORTAGE — Paul Bui could have been a poster child for Thursday’s manufacturing career day at Portage High School.
Bui, 18, is a June graduate of Valparaiso High School. A product of the Porter County Career Center with coursework in computers and electrical engineering, he figured he’d work for a year and then attend a four-year college.
But his teacher at the career center, Dave Kenning, hooked him into a job at Fronius, a company that offers battery charging systems, solar electronics and welding technology, with headquarters in Portage.
Bui started his job as a field engineer a month ago. He will be a service provider on the East Coast.
“I didn’t expect it to be a career,” said Bui, who helped staff the Fronius booth in the field house while freshmen went from vendor to vendor.
Going to college is still part of Bui’s plan, but he can do it while he’s working. His career path never occurred to him as a high school freshman.
“None of this came to me until my senior year, when Mr. Kenning brought it up,” he said.
That awareness was the goal of career day, to enlighten students early on in high school about possibilities beyond four-year colleges, and inform them of the high-tech jobs available nearby.
“The major thing is to give the kids an idea of what’s available in their own community and the world of work, and give them an idea of what the businesses in the world of work require,” including a drug-free lifestyle and a sense of responsibility, said Superintendent E. Ric Frataccia, who stopped by career day.
About 30 vendors participated in the first-time event, held for the school’s 600 freshmen. The fair also included local colleges, health care, construction and the steel industry.
A key component of career day was showing students alternatives.
“Statistics show that 80 percent of our students in Porter County head off to college after high school, and 50 percent of those return and don’t know what’s out there,” said Jim Fitzer, executive director of Portage Economic Development Corp., which sponsored the fair.
The fair, which opened to the public later in the day so parents also could see what local businesses have to offer, emphasized the high-tech nature of manufacturing jobs.
“We don’t want these students to feel inferior to college-bound (students), because these jobs are really high-skilled,” Fitzer said, adding they require expertise in math, computers and communication.
Rebecca Farris admitted she’s more interested in a career in the arts than in manufacturing, even though her father works at a steel mill. Still, Rebecca, 14, was surprised by all the businesses at the fair she didn’t know were in Portage.
“Half the ones here, I had no idea existed,” the Portage resident said. “Coming here was very eye-opening.”
Classmate Cally Alexander, 15, is considering a medical career; her mother is a nurse and her grandmother is a doctor. But Cally, from Portage, said the fair offered new options to ponder.
“I think it’s really cool. It’s cool to give you an idea about the future,” she said.
With a group of students clustered around his booth, Dwayne Tate, who works in new product development at Task Force Tips, showed off some of the firefighting equipment the firm makes in Valparaiso, including a nozzle used by the Portage Fire Department.
Manufacturing is a path to a good wage out of high school, he said, and the career fair was one way to tell that to students.
“It lets the students know the different types of jobs out there,” he said, adding he went through an apprenticeship after high school instead of college. “It’s an excellent alternative.”