Summer is here and many Westfield High students are working at various places throughout the community. And many of them connected with their future employers at a job fair held in Westfield’s cafeteria before the school year ended.
Some 24 employers and at least 800 students participated. Organized by the school’s College and Career Center, the event wasn’t just a big success, but was also timely.
“We thought it would be primarily for summer jobs, but discovered some of the businesses had positions open immediately,” said Laura Cudahy, Westfield’s College and Career Center specialist. “It was great for our students to make these contacts and to bring the employers to them. Many students don’t have transportation, but they could take public transportation or walk to their jobs.”
During the school year, she said, students come through the College and Career Center looking for jobs, and companies contact Westfield about various openings they have. “But they didn’t seem to be matching up,” said Cudahy. “So a job fair seemed like a good chance to make students aware of the opportunities in their own area.”
Luciana Barletta, with AMC Worldgate 9 movie theater in Herndon, was trying to hire part-time employees. “It’s a really fun place to work,” she said. “Kids, ages 14-16, can be cashiers and sell popcorn and tickets. And those 16 and above can prepare food, clean the theater and help in other areas.”
“They’re part of our film crew,” continued Barletta. “They’re the face of AMC — the ones taking care of our guests. So when we were invited to come to Westfield, we saw it as a great opportunity. And we gave out popcorn and ‘Star Wars’ collectible buckets.”
Visiting her table, junior Nora Kelly said, “I’d do whatever job they had open. This job fair gives teenagers opportunities they might not have, otherwise. They come to us; we don’t have to go to them, so it’s less intimidating. I’ll look into it.”
Freshman Sara Masaki and twin sister Mia also chatted with Barletta. “Movie tickets are really expensive these days, and I like going to movies, so it would be nice to have a discount or free tickets,” said Sara. “The people seem really nice, and it’s an active job and wouldn’t be boring. I’d also learn responsibility; I feel like I rely on my parents too much. This way, I’d be more independent, and it’s a good, starting job.”
“I always thought I’d have to deal with rude customers, but this wouldn’t be like that,” added Mia. “It sounds like fun and I’d learn social skills. I’ve been unsure about whether I could get a job, and this would give me experience. It’s kind of scary to look at jobs by yourself, but this makes you feel more relaxed and comfortable about it.”
At the Trader Joe’s table, crew members sought people to fill entry-level positions, manning the cash registers, stocking shelves, working behind the scenes, unloading trucks, etc. From the Centreville store, they gave away chips, juice boxes and Trader Joe’s shopping bags.
“A good number of people have come by,” said crew member Jordan Vorgang. “A lot of kids, 16-17, are looking for first-time, summer jobs, and Trader Joe’s has that. We want them to feel comfortable. We give them experience in the workforce; and talking to customers builds their confidence and communications skills. They also learn to deal with unexpected situations.”
“I started there at age 15 as a shy girl, and I’m now confident and loud,” she added. As for the job fair, said Vorgang, “This generation, especially, needs a little oomph to get into the job market, so we wanted to help them out a little, give them options and show them this is within their reach.”
Representing Texas Roadhouse’s Chantilly restaurant, Sydney Larrow, April Hall and Kristin Rogers sought students for both school-year and summer, part-time jobs. “We’re trying to recruit hosts and server assistants, 16 and up, and servers, who must be 18,” said Larrow. “Server assistants clear tables, take out trash and place dishes in the dishwasher area. We have current students working for us, and the Westfield ones show a very good work ethic.”
Hall said the restaurant wanted to participate in the job fair because “Texas Roadhouse is a great place to start out in the workforce. And we have students who’ve continued to come back and work for us, on breaks and vacations, after graduating from high school. We’re a fun company and we’ve grown tremendously.”
Besides that, she said, “Not a lot of kids know what jobs are out there because they’re so busy with homework and social activities that they don’t get a chance to look around. High-school students are starting to think about what they want to do as a career, and the hospitality-and-service industry — hotels, restaurants, etc. — is one of the number-one employers in the country.”
Rogers said 20-30 Westfield students already work as hosts and server assistants at Texas Roadhouse, and their table received “a lot of interest” at the job fair.
Meanwhile, senior Tayelor Thrasher-Walker looked into opportunities with sports and fitness cener, nZone, and with Staffing Now, an accounting company. “They help students with front-desk jobs,” she said. “It puts you in an office setting and deals with accounting. If you want to go into the world of finance, it’s a good, first step.”
“I feel like getting this job would help me decide if I like it,” she continued. “Because we’re students, a lot of us don’t know how to find a job or get out there, so employers coming to us makes it more accessible.”
Sophomore Jalin Dew visited the Jersey Mike’s table to speak with Sean Schoonover, who owns seven locations, including the Chantilly restaurant. “I asked what they were offering and if I could be eligible,” said Dew. “I’ve never had a job before, but this would be a good opportunity to learn something new and develop as a young adult. I want a summer job so, if there’s anything open, I’ll definitely apply for it.”
Schoonover had both full- and part-time management positions available, plus shift runners and crew chiefs, who supervise other staff members, keep things running smoothly and close up the restaurant at night. “They could do this straight out of high school — I did,” he said. “They can become a manager or owner; our training module sets them up for success.”
Freshman Isaiah McClain and senior Bilguun Enkh both checked out Chick-fil-A. “I could maybe be a cashier or a cook,” said McClain. “It’s a start-off job. I really like Chick-fil-A, and it would teach me responsibility.”
Enkh wanted part-time work as a cashier or in customer service. “I have to make lots of money for college,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to find a job, but this [event] makes it easier.”
Also helpful was Get a Job. “Students go online to www.getajobdulles.com and fill out an application telling their qualifications, job interests and time availability,” said NOVA junior Aran Muradi, with the organization. “Companies post their available jobs and internships there, Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce members upload them to this website and the system matches them to the applicants.”
Job seekers click on a star on the site to show their interest in a position, and then an employer sees it and can contact them. Owned by Allwyn Corp., the Get a Job Website has been functional for a year.
“We’re trying to get the ball rolling,” said Muradi. “The more signups, the more jobs. Get a Job verifies the employers, so we know they’re safe. Currently, they’re mainly Dulles Chamber of Commerce members, but we hope to eventually expand.”
After the job fair, Westfield’s Cudahy said, “It’s gone really well; there was so much interest that it exceeded our expectations, as well as the employers’ — who had to replenish their giveaways and brochures. The students and businesses seemed happy, and we’ll do a follow-up survey with the businesses to see how they liked it, how many hires they got out of it and would they like to come back.”
“And I hope we’ll make this an annual event,” she added. “I’d like to see us, in general, focus a little more on careers and what students want to do with their lives, and not just on how to get into a college.”