By Josh Troy
College is synonymous with a traditional career path for many young adults, but Clarksdale High School senior English teacher Elizabeth Gibbons is looking to change that perception. On Friday morning, Gibbons organized a career fair focused on non-traditional professionals in the Clarksdale High School gym. “We’ve had career fairs in the past,” she said. “This is the first time we’ve done one like this. I really wanted to focus on the seniors who want to take a more non-traditional college pathway and get them focused on careers they could pursue within our community. That’s why we’ve got several different people from our community represented. It’s just things they could do if they were not interested in the college track.”
The Clarksdale police and fire departments and the Coahoma Community College career technical education programs, such as the welding and barber schools, provided information for students interested in those career paths. Barber students gave seniors interested in the profession haircuts. Other local companies and entrepreneurs at the career fair included Image Industries, which works with hydraulic weld ports Urgent & Primary Care of Clarksdale, Anointed Hands Massage; Channing Liddell, who makes T-shirts; and The barber shop New Wave Studio.
Gibbons said business leaders informed CHS seniors what skills are necessary for different professions and what goes into building a business. “They have those skills necessary to do those things if this is something they would be interested in pursuing after graduation,” she said. The City of Clarksdale Human Resources Director Tarra Slack said the police and fire department’s participation in the career fair was an opportunity to let students know about potential opportunities. “It was good for the city to participate in this because it is always a good idea to allow the young people in an area to understand what’s available,” she said. “And so, for us to come, we are increasing applicants for positions that we have open in the city.”
Sgt. Alvin Coley of the Clarksdale Police Department said having a career in law enforcement is an opportunity to make a difference. “For one thing, if you could help just one person that commits a crime to change their life around, turn their life around, you have made a difference in the community,” she said. “If you change one person and turn their life from crime to something positive, you’re helping the community.” Clarksdale Police Department officer Neal Mitchell represented the brick, block, and stone masonry programs at CCC. He said he would like to have seniors do hands-on masonry work either on campus or at an outside facility to show them how easy it is.
“I’m telling them this is a good skill to go along with any skill or career path you choose,” he said. “If you’re in law enforcement or have a full-time job somewhere else, you could learn this skill right here. It adds to the amount of money you could make, which means that this is some extra income.” Mitchell said someone in the masonry program could eventually install mailboxes, driveways, and concrete or even start his or her own company. “We have a shortage of brick masonries in the masonry field,” he said. “And if you get in the class and learn the fundamentals, it will take you a long way.”
New Wave Studio owner Joshua Ratliff went to barber school at CCC and said it was “the best community college in the world.” “It’s always a good thing to participate in something like this to show people that you don’t have to go to school to get all your bookwork,” he said. “You can sometimes go to school and become an entrepreneur. You can go to school and get a trade. You can go to school and do something you actually want to do instead of doing something you’re forced to do. You want to learn to do different things and skills, and it’s just a great way to become yourself.”
Ratliff cut seniors’ hair during the career fair. “It helps me,” he said. “It helps the community, and it helps the people that look up to me that look around and see the different people and things. It just helps the community as a whole.” As a result of Ratliff cutting hair, he said one senior told him he wanted to be a barber when he grew up, and Ratliff gave the student his contact information. Gibbons said students gave her the idea to have the non-traditional career fair, and she hoped all the seniors gained something from it. “We had students complete interest inventories earlier in the year, and some of them expressed interest in some of these different careers, which is why we got some of the different people we have here now,” she said.