DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) - Southeast Alabama Works kicked off its third annual Southeast Worlds of Work career fair.
Nearly 5,000 eighth-grade students from Barbour, Butler, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston, and Pike County along with students from Georgia and Florida attended the career fair.
Fifty-three vendors from 10 disciplines - including healthcare, transportation, construction, and utilities set up interactive displays to talk to students about what it would be like to work in specific careers.
"Our hope and goal is that they get to experience something to ignite their future," said Ryan Richards, Director of Southeast Alabama Works.
Richards said eighth-graders were the organization's target demographic for the event because the students are about to jumpstart their career path.
"So, when they start registering for class in the ninth grade, that they look at career tech opportunities at their local high school," said Richards.
"We're about to enter high school and high school is where we start making major career choices," said eighth-grader Faith Dillard.
Dillard already knows she wants to go into Agricultural Engineering, so for her, the fair is about figuring out what she needs to do to reach that goal.
"I want to visit the Auburn table and I want to see the agriculture things," she said.
Organizers hope the hands-on experience at the career fair will help solidify students' career path.
"We're trying to provide that exposure here at this event," Richards said.
"It's not just reading words off paper, it's knowing and doing what you could be doing in the future," said Dillard.
"It's going to teach me things you have to know and what to expect in life," said eighth-grade student Ahmad Bennett.
"You can see the options and the classes you might want to take and it's a fun experience in general," said eighth-grader Bryce Jones.
But for students who aren't so sure, the fair is a good place to start thinking.
"I hear a lot of, 'I don't know,' and that's what today is about, giving them choices," said Wallace Community College representative Kenneth Hagen.
The fair is also a jumpstart for employers to eventually fill jobs.
"Where the trucking industry is, we are always looking for drivers and people to look to do this as a career," said Trent Jones of Operations AMX.
"These days there aren't enough skilled workers for the trade," said Hagen. "It's so important for events like this to bring students in and explain to them about the skilled trade programs offered."
The hope is also retain talent in the Wiregrass.
"These are long-term solutions," said Richards. "We know these students are four to five years away from the work force and so we're trying to build the pipeline of future people into this industry that may not necessarily be on their radar."
This is the first year the career fair was also open to 11th and 12th-graders.