Queen Creek students, businesses join forces to build a better workforce

Devin Tinder, left and Innessa Gastelum, center, speak with Corey Stevenson, right, at the Arizona State University Sun Devil Athletics booth. (Independent Newspapers/Arianna Grainey)

More than 1,000 high school students, mostly juniors, from Queen Creek and its surrounding communities had an opportunity Feb. 7 to ask local employers what they expect from job applicants.

The Elevate for Tomorrow conference, or E4T, was created to help students explore options after graduating high school and learn soft skills such as how to act during an interview necessary to succeed in the workforce.

It was sponsored by the Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce and Chick-Fil-A and held at the Queen Creek Performing Arts Center and Queen Creek High School, both at 22149 E. Ocotillo Road.

After listening to guest speakers and networking, the students from Queen Creek High, Combs High School, Benjamin Franklin, Heritage, Arizona Virtual Academy, Third Place and Canyon State were able to speak directly to representatives from a variety of area businesses about what they were looking for when interviewing job applicants.

In addition, they learned what skills they would need to apply for different jobs.

Among the participating businesses were: Maricopa County Library District-Queen Creek Branch, the U.S. Army, Bob Wilson Solutions, Joshua Development, Day 1 Dance Studio, Arizona State University Sun Devil Athletics, Total Presence Management, BAO Inc., Liberty Mutual Insurance, First Cal, TruWest Credit Union, Primerica, Parker and Sons, Caretaker Landscape and Tree Management, Top Quality Masonry, Mechanicool, DLR Group, Salt River Project and Wells Fargo.

Also on hand to talk to students were college recruiters from Central Arizona College, University of Arizona, Ottawa University, Northern Arizona University, ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teacher’s College, Maricopa Community College District, Benedictine University and Prescott College, according to a press release.

The students

Alanso De La Torre reviews information from a local vendor at the career fair. (Independent Newspapers/Arianna Grainey)

Devin Tinder spoke to representatives from an architecture design firm as well as a financial advisor.

“I think this was a good opportunity to interact with employers and see what they are looking for and get a feel for what you could be doing in the future,” the QCHS junior said in an interview. “I’ve learned a little about ways to present yourself and how to interact with someone who could be your future employer. And how to look good and to smile is important. I learned that.”

Devin, who is considering jobs in business or medicine, said there were firms at the conference that shared what they do.

“They are looking for the new generation that has more to offer, I think. Not more to offer per se, but new skills with technology. I think they look to us,” she said.

Alonso De La Torre said he learned about the importance of being sociable and interacting with people and to maintain those relationships.

“That’s how they know you are really serious about what you are doing in life,” he said during an interview.

He said he has come to realize the effort he puts into his life will benefit him in the future.

“…You will reap what you sow,” said Alonso, who said he is interested in careers in business or marketing. “When you put that in perspective and when you actually put it through you realize that you can do so much more. And you have a lot of potential in you. There’s a lot of kids nowadays who beat themselves down over and over again because they don’t succeed at first or there’s too much effort involved. So they quit or give up because they’re not that interested in it. But once you really try and put all your effort into it and really put your back into it, that’s when you start advancing and progressing as a person. And become more intelligent and more thirsty for knowledge.”

Innessa Gastelum is president of Queen Creek High School’s DECA club, which concentrates on marketing skills. The high school senior volunteered at the conference to share job-seeking information she has already learned by participating in DECA, a part of the school’s Career and Technical Education department.

She called the conference an “eye-opener” for some attendees.

More than 1,000 high school students — mostly juniors — from Queen Creek and the surrounding communities participated in the Elevate for Tomorrow conference Feb. 7 to learn soft skills such as interviewing to make them better job candidates. Above, the gym at Queen Creek High School was filled with students and vendors and job recruiters to whom they could ask questions about them job-seeking process and career opportunities. (Independent Newspapers/Arianna Grainey)

“I hope they pay attention and really take in what people are telling them today,” she said during an interview. “I think some kids, especially juniors, just kids in high school in general … they think they’re going to stay in high school the rest of their whole years and the real world’s not out there and it is. So I hope that they take away you should talk to businesspeople and the way they should dress and act and how to network. Networking is the biggest thing especially when you get into the real world.”

Combs High School, 2505 E. Germann Road in San Tan Valley sent 260 students — about 82 percent of its junior class — to the event, Dr. Gayle Blanchard, superintendent of the J.O. Combs Unified School District, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

“Of the sessions I attended, I believe every session had equal value and that students could apply something they heard/learned from each,” Dr. Blanchard said. “Anything we can do to help our students with post-graduate planning is important for them and their future.”

She said the school would participate in future events and commended the conference committee for its hard work and organization.

“What a great example of how schools and communities can work together,” she said.

The businesses

Chick-Fil-A sponsored the appearance by keynote speaker Kevin Scott. (Independent Newspapers/Arianna Grainey)

Most vendors the Queen Creek Independent called or e-mailed after the conference said they would participate in future events.

Erin Granillo, president of Total Presence Management, an employment agency based in Glendale, said many of the 50 students she spoke to at the conference seemed very receptive to the information she and a co-worker had to offer.

“A lot were very confident in what they wanted to do. They asked a lot of very good questions,” she said during a phone interview. “Some were shy, some were a little intimidated but they still expressed a genuine interest in what they could do.”

Ms. Granillo said her mission was not to help the students find jobs, but to inform them about how a placement agency works.

“They wanted to know if the work was full- or part-time and were very curious about the process. That was the meat of their discussion,” she said.

Ms. Granillo participated in the conference based on the recommendation of her business associate, Erica Ballesteros from Gilbert-based Joshua Development, a business consulting and personal development firm.

Ms. Ballesteros said in an e-mailed response to questions the students displayed a wide range of interest about what she had to share.

“Some were very professional and interested, some were a mixture and others were completely disengaged,” she said.
Ms. Ballesteros said she would attend future E4T conferences and expressed some recommendations for the next event.

“I would also recommend the kids go into it knowing what kinds of businesses will be there and have some questions prepared. I thought there were great conversations with some students, but if they had questions prepared, that could lead to deeper conversations,” she said.

ASU Sun Devil Athletics participated in E4T to share information on the many careers it offers in the business of sports, Nathan Reilly, director of ticket sales and service, said in an e-mailed response to questions. He did not say if the school would participate in a future conference.

“It is difficult to determine the effectiveness of ASU sharing more on careers in sports, but we enjoy giving back to the community,” he said.

Jason Purvis, who operates Chick-Fil-A in Queen Creek, said he was impressed with many of the students he spoke to after the event. In an e-mailed response to questions, he admitted he was a bit biased in his praise for the event since he is a member of the Queen Creek Chamber’s Education Committee, which helped plan the event, and is the operator of one of its major sponsors.

“Of course I would participate again and I will continue to serve on the Queen Creek education committee. I have a passion to see young people become the best versions of themselves that they can be. I believe E4T will quickly grow into a very valuable resource to our high school students as they prepare to take their next steps into the world,” Mr. Purvis said. “I trust that it will prepare them to be active participants in their communities and share with the next generation the valuable lessons that helped them to become successful.”

Mr. Purvis said many of the students he spoke with were excited they had access to business people and enjoyed being able to ask questions and be heard.

“It is my hope that E4T will use this event to venture in other student interest programs that will prepare them for bright futures, including the valuable art and lessons of leadership,” he said.

Chris Clark, president/CEO of the Queen Creek chamber, called the conference a “great success by all standards and measures.”

The 1,000 students were divided into three groups, one of which filled the auditorium at the Queen Creek Performing Arts Center to listen to guest speakers such as entrepreneur Kevin Scott. (Independent Newspapers/Arianna Grainey)

“The kids comments were mostly positive,” he said during a phone interview. “A lot of kids were talking about something they had learned or taken away. One young lady at the end was very grateful the event was two-way, that they had the opportunity to talk and speak and it was not just all lectures.”

Members of the chamber’s education committee met Feb. 8 to discuss the conference and improvements that could be made for next year’s E4T, which they hope to hold in late summer or early fall, Mr. Clark said.

“All in all it was a wonderful day all around,” Mr. Clark said.

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