This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Alix Cummin flipped through a promotional booklet showcasing the McGrory Glass products used in the construction of skyscrapers, including Philadelphia’s Comcast Center. She had a question for Emily Clayton, the McGrory Glass recruiter at the booth:
“What kind of jobs do you have at entry level?”
Clayton, one of more than 90 recruiters with booths set up at the Pathways to Success job and career fair on Monday evening at High School of the Future, told Cummin that the firm was looking to hire entry-level warehouse laborers to assist machine operators. But she also emphasized opportunities for advancement at the company and its commitment to promoting from within.
Cummin, 53, was not looking for a job for herself. She is the senior academic director at SquashSmarts, a nonprofit that provides academic mentorship and athletic training in squash to Philadelphia public school students free of charge.
“I like to show students that these large-scale names near here are accessible to them,” she said, adding the McGrory Glass pamphlet to her shoulder bag that was already weighed down with flyers and business cards.
In addition to collecting materials for her squash students, she brought a small group of them with her to the event.
“I do try to bring students to all resource fairs,” she said, “because it brings them to career options they may not have thought of. But if they can start a conversation, it can lead them down a new path.”
The room grew warmer as more students, parents, and educators swarmed into the entry hall to browse the booths at the fair, which was a collaboration among the School District of Philadelphia, the City of Philadelphia, and PA CareerLink. Under a large “GEAR UP for College” poster displayed on the curved white arches above the hall, recruiters presented other fulfilling post-high school options, ranging from trade schools to the military to service and health-care jobs.
Cummin, peeling off her jacket with a Squash Sports logo to reveal a shirt with the same, estimated that about half the graduating students in her program go to college each year, while half pursue other careers and technical training. As if on cue, one of her students came up behind her and rested her head on her shoulder.
Melliah Santos is in 12th grade at Esperanza Academy Charter School in North Philadelphia. Santos said she came looking for certain organizations – District 1199C and City Year AmeriCorps – but “Alix recommended me to a few other tables.”
Wearing a Beavis and Butt-Head jacket, Santos laughed as she talked about her passions and plans for after high school: nursing or ceramics. Glancing at the McGrory Glass table, she said, “We do glass work in art class at school. Welding just seems fun.”
She is applying for District 1199C’s health-care training program, and she has also applied to the Community College of Philadelphia, which offers ceramics classes. Although these steps do not necessarily ease the pressure of impending graduation, she said, coming to resource fairs like this with Cummin helps motivate her. “It gets me into filling out more applications.”
Gesturing at the glass samples on her table, Clayton said that most applicants are more interested in manual work and quality management, but that she has met students like Santos who are attracted to her booth because they’ve enjoyed creative and design projects in high school. As she described the process of glass-making, she said: “It’s not just producing a thousand windows. It’s very custom.”
Many of the recruiters talked about alternative opportunities for students to pursue their interests and passions besides going straight to a four-year college. Petty Officer Sheldon Lacy was at the Navy’s table, which had a steady stream of visitors.
“I recommend the military after high school because it gives [students] a head start: free job training, free college, an opportunity to explore what’s out there,” Lacy said.
Breanne Krzeminski, talent acquisition specialist at Republic Bank, talked about opportunities at her company for training and advancement from customer-service positions to back-office and supervisor roles. She said that students who are drawn to finance or accounting and have visited her table “seemed interested that we would hire without previous banking experience and train them.”
Although the booths at the fair were diverse and unique, they had two major things in common: They offered students pathways to fulfilling careers, and Alix Cummin was there to take a pamphlet for her students.
“People who know me say I am in my dream job,” Cummin said, “and I say, ‘Yes, I am.’”
Lynn Oseguera is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania who is interning at the Notebook this semester.