Ah, the high school career fair. Not the place for the faint of heart or the weak of soul.

For those of you who haven’t had the misfortune to be invited to one, let me explain. A high school, in an attempt to introduce students to the Wonderful World of Work, decides to hold a fair. The guidance department calls up all the local captains of industry — and probably a few lieutenants and sergeants too — and asks them to set up displays that explain their jobs. After much badgering, I was once compelled to set up a display to illustrate the Fascinating World of Newspapering.

Now I should have known this little endeavour would be doomed from the start. For one thing, newspapering on a daily basis isn’t terribly exciting. If you are a reporter, the highlight of your day is the scrum — that’s when you get to crowd around a politician, stuff a tape recorder up his nose, and ask obnoxious questions. If you are an editor, the highlight of your day is the swarm — that’s when you fight with the other editors for the last double chocolate doughnut.

(This is why newspaper people keep a sharp pencil behind their ear. They are good for spearing donuts; alternatively, they make good weapons in a clinch.)

For another thing, how does one set up a ‘display’ for newspapering? Strangely enough, three-ton printing presses simply refuse to fit into the trunk of a Dodge Neon. The next most exciting piece of equipment on the job is a computer — like there’s a teenager anywhere in North America who hasn’t seen one of those before, right? In a brief moment of panic, I figured this left me with A) your basic reporter’s notebook and B) a scruffy looking fedora hat with a bent PRESS card in the rim. However, I did manage to scrounge a digital camera and a few other items for a credible display.

Off I went to the school to set up my table. I walked smugly by the local radio station’s display, which consisted of a beat-up microphone, a bleary-eyed deejay and a promotional banner, both of which looked as though they had been unfurled at one too many beer gardens. I confidently spread out my gear, noticing with glee that my table was directly across from the entrance, and would be the first thing eager teens would see. I put on my cheeriest face and prepared to answer a barrage of intelligent questions.

Yes, as a matter of fact, my middle names are ‘naive’ and ‘fool’ okay?

The doors flew open and the kids came streaming in. It was at this point that I noticed the guidance department had cleverly placed my table in between a display on drag racing, and another from a beauty school which was offering free make-overs.

Never have I seen the concept of the parting of the Red Sea demonstrated so well.

Also at this point, I remembered the Universal School Administration Policy on High School Gymnasiums, Section II, Subsection iii, which is: At all times, keep the ambient air temperature precisely 32 degrees below freezing.

So I sat there, alternatively shivering and swilling industrial grade ‘special event coffee,’ debating as to whether I should abandon ship and line up for one of the free treatments being offered by the massage therapist. But no such luck  — a few students finally wandered up. One of them frowned at the fedora and poked the card labelled ‘PRESS’ to see what it would do. Alas, it was not interactive.

“Like, do you have to do a lot of reading and writing for this job?” asked the other student.

Like, gag me. I nodded.

“Oh. Do you have to wear a uniform?”

I told him no.

“Cool. Maybe I’ll do this for my co-op.”

Thus, another young, able mind was steered in the right direction.* ‘Co-op’ incidentally, is short for co-operative education, another guidance department initiative. In theory, a student works part time at a local business in exchange for academic credit. The idea is for ‘industry to stay in touch with today’s youth,’ and for teens to get valuable, real-world work experience. In reality, industry gets dragged into career fairs, and the teens get stuck with washing windows and shredding paper because the regular staff refuses to do that stuff when they have free labour available.

Yes, really, what else should have I expected from the guidance department? These were the same people who in one breath once told me that “the decisions I made now would cement my career path permanently” and in the next breath said that in the future I could expect to change careers as many as five times before retirement.

Okay, okay, perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on the concept. Goodness knows there are a lot of people out there who could use some career fairs and co-op education. Take the two applicants who showed up at the newspaper later, for example. One wanted to be a reporter — previous experience included four years in shock and muffler installation. Which, now that I think on it, might not have been entirely inappropriate.

Another wanted to design advertising on the computer. I asked if she had any previous computer experience.

“No, but, like, I’ve handled a cash register.”

Cool. I’ll just go grab the fedora.

*Looking at the state of newspapering today… sorry about that, kid.

One Comment

    • Mark Gerren

    • 2 months ago

    Today’s education system values experience over learning. Therefore, students are sent out the door of the institutions without the basic knowlege needed to effectively communicate what they have learned. How can one pass on knowledge without the ability to correctly express it? Graduates with college, master’s or doctoral degrees cannot spell words, or construct grammatically correct sentences, which is the sad product of our educational establishments.

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