By: Aubrey Thomson

Last Updated: May 4, 2022

With the changes in the job market over the last few years, workers have had to think about job searching differently. This has proved to be especially challenging for young adults who are new to the workforce, so Center of Workforce Innovations decided to do something about it.

“Given the workforce landscape right now, it’s tough–employers are having a hard time filling positions,” said President and CEO of Center of Workforce Innovations Lisa Daugherty. “They’re more open and realize the opportunity to tap into that youth population and give them opportunities to learn new work.”

Center of Workforce Innovations hosted its very first NEXTgen Expo on May 4, which targeted young adults from 16-24. NEXTgen Expo, hosted at Avalon Manor in Merrillville, featured over 35 booths where employers and young adults could meet and discuss opportunities.

“It’s all about getting them connected. What we know is that so many individuals, whether they’re youth or adults, don’t know about all the resources that are available to them. They may not know how to connect directly with employers. We brought those organizations together and made them easily available to the youth,” Daugherty said.

NEXTgen Expo went beyond a typical job fair, incorporating three breakout sessions to help prepare young adults to confidently pursue a career. These sessions were titled, “What About My Resume,” “Money Matters,” and “Career Development Panel.”

“On the Career Development Panel, we had three very different types of youth who have gotten to their careers in different ways,” said Center of Workforce Innovations Senior Workforce Associate Tammy Stump. “One was actually a youth that went through our services. She was a dropout who went back and got her HSC, did a work experience at the Learning Center, and then we actually hired her.”

The other two panelists took different routes, with one training with JobWorks and becoming an IT specialist for JobWorks and the graduating from Ball State University and becoming an entrepreneur with her own makeup line.

Youth Employment Council of Northwest Indiana Workforce Board was one of the driving forces that made this event possible. Director of Youth Engagement Dominique Smiley shared that with many young adults in the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program getting ready to graduate, the time was right to cater employment resources to young adults.

“We definitely wanted to give the kids an opportunity to learn. We really wanted them to be exposed to a lot of different areas. We wanted to show them a career path. We have a lot of kids who don’t want to go to college and want to start their careers, so we wanted to bring in employers,” Smiley said. “We wanted our youth to have those opportunities that a lot of our adults have. There are a lot of conferences going on in Northwest Indiana but nothing for the youth. That’s why we wanted to have this conference for the youth.”

To ensure that young adults who were still in high school could attend the event during school hours, it was important to get the schools themselves involved. Fortunately, Stump credits the JAG program and an initiative called Writing Northwest Indiana with helping Center of Workforce Innovations establish good relationships with the schools, making it easier to connect about the NEXTgen Expo.

School buses and cars lined the Avalon Manor parking lot with 27 schools participating in the event. Attendance surpassed Center of Workforce Innovations’ goal with over 300 young adults participating in the very first NEXTgen Expo. Center of Workforce Innovations cannot wait to see how NEXTgen Expo turns out next year.

“We call it NEXTgen because they’re in the next generation, but really, they’re ready now,” Stump said. “You’ve got to start talking to them to get them in that development pipeline so they know what skills they need.”

For more information about Center of Workforce Innovations and its employment resources, visit https://www.cwicorp.com/.

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