By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
As president of AT&T Alabama, Fred McCallum knows what he wants in a workforce. Last week, he got a chance to see a group of individuals prepared to impress potential employers.
More than 200 eleventh grade Birmingham City School students were at the Harbert Center in downtown Birmingham dressed in business suits, ties, business dresses and skirts with résumés and cover letters in hand.
They attended the fourth annual Career Development Conference. Each career academy in Birmingham’s seven high schools had students at the gathering.
The career academy students prepared for mock interviews and networking opportunities with representatives from companies that included AT&T, the Markstein marketing and public relations firm, Spire Energy (formerly Alagasco), United Way, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Alabama Power.
“The idea is by the time [the students] are walking out of this conference, they’re ready to interview for whatever job and colleges out there,” said J.W. Carpenter, executive director of the Birmingham Education Foundation.
The Ed Foundation partnered with the Rotary Club of Birmingham and the Rotoract Club of Birmingham to help students dress for success, write résumés, and “nail the interview process.”
The confidence level of the students was off the charts, McCallum said.
“It is clear to me that these students are thinking about their career and where they really want to go, how to get there and what they need to do to get there,” said McCallum, who is also the president of the Rotary Club. “These students have a plan, know what to do and how to execute that plan.”
Some students were more prepared than some adults when it came to the interviews, McCallum said.
“In eleventh grade I wasn’t nearly as prepared as these students are for life,” he said. “I told them, some plans may change, but if you have a plan on where you’re going and how to get there, you’re going to get there.”
Delvin Caples, 17, who is in Woodlawn High School’s Finance and Business Academy, impressed a number of recruiters.
“Not everybody gets a chance to go through a mock interview and if you have the chance you’re getting ahead of the game,” Caples said. “It gets you prepared for the real world.”
Caples said he wants to attend UAB for web design and business, and currently helps build webpages for Church of the Highlands. Students who are given these types of opportunities should take them, he said.
Tae Dyson, 16, who attends the architecture and construction academy at Huffman High School, agreed.
“A lot of students may not learn this at home and school, so it’s best to take heed of the advice you are receiving, especially if you are not used to being in this environment,” she said.
Meeting the pros is a great way to prepare for the business world, said Dyson, who also studies culinary arts and aims to own a food bar and become an executive chef.
She received advice from Judy [Crittenden of Crittenden Partners], who said “I should look at working in magazines like Southern Living, and food magazines,” Dyson said. “I never would have considered that on my own, honestly, but it makes sense.”
McCallum said he hopes local companies consider hiring some of the talent.
“We need these students in the city, filling jobs, having successful careers, making companies successful in the future so that those of us who aren’t going to be here can have retirement,” McCallum said. “It is their opportunity to give back, but it’s Birmingham’s opportunity to . . . establish some relationships that can help them get jobs. These students are incredibly talented and products of Birmingham, and this is Birmingham’s chance to keep the talent here.”