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'Ignite' program introduces students to future careers

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WASHINGTON COUNTY, Va. - State officials say less than half of southwest Virginia high school graduates go on to college, technical training or the military. Those are just some of the numbers behind a new United Way initiative to ignite job potential in young adults earlier than ever before.

Tuesday kicked off the organization's career expo. It is not your ordinary career fair. It is a chance for students to experience the jobs. That is the case for Glade Middle School student Dalton Blevins.

Blevins said, "I didn't know you had to push right here. I always thought you had to push on the heart."

Blevins now might consider a medical profession after learning how to perform CPR. "They said I was doing really good at it and said I could have a future in it, and that really interested me."

The career fair is part of the United Way's Ignite program started last year as a three-school pilot program. It now reaches 30,000 students in every middle and high school in southwest Virginia.

United Way's Marketing and Communications Manager Briana Filler said, "What we're trying to do with our ignite program is inspire these middle schoolers and high schoolers to pursue careers, make them aware of the holes that we have, the skills gaps that we have here in southwest Virginia, but we are also connecting them students to employers and employees."

In addition to learning about potential jobs and training, some are already getting trained in school at no cost to them. For example, in Washington County, students can graduate high school with a license to practice cosmetology.

"They're taught everything they need to know to pass their state board test and go straight into the work field as soon as they graduate," Cosmetology instructor Shelley Duncan said.

They are also exposed to post-graduation training needed for local high demand jobs, including power linemen.

"You work your way up through the company. You start as a D lineman and you work your way up to an A. It takes about five years to get to that point," Appalachian Power Lineman Supervisor Brian Davidson said.

Lessons and training in a variety of tasks, talents, and trades designed to get students thinking about and working toward their future.

"Really, it gets me prepared for college and where I want to go," Gate City seventh grader Luke Bledsoe said.

The career expo continues Wednesday at the Washington County fairgrounds. More than 4,000 students are expected from 47 schools during the two-day expo.

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