Williamson’s Career Fairs, which began very humbly and small 17 years ago, grew to the largest, most successful yet when representatives of 161 companies and two schools attended the spring fair in the newly opened Joseph L. and Marion M. Wesley Student Center on March 7.
Margaret “Weemie” Kingham, director of placement and fair coordinator, said “Over the years, we were limited in the number of companies we allowed to attend because the Restall Sports Center wasn’t large enough to accommodate larger numbers. We dreamed of having a larger space in which to hold our career fairs and the new Wesley Student Center is our dream come true.
“It was truly great seeing so many companies and alumni meeting with our students, helping seniors find full-time employment and underclassmen summer internships. This proves that the economy is good for the trades and that our graduates are in demand. We had over 50 alumni attending as company representatives, which is fantastic. We love seeing them come back and they love meeting with the students.”
Another special aspect of this fair was the presence of Joseph Wesley, the man who provided the funds to construct the student center. “I saw the look on his face and he was very happy and excited to see what was going on in the building he provided for us. He was thrilled. And we were thrilled having him here to see it. He really enjoyed talking with the students and company representatives. He made this possible.”
She said all of the trades were well represented, including the new Electrical Program, and that all of the students had many companies in their trade to meet with.
Kingham stresses that the fair is not a one-woman show, but is a success each year because of the efforts of the entire school, from the faculty and staff up to President Michael Rounds, Provost Todd Zachary, and William Bonenberger 7W9, board chairman. “The support that goes into this event is amazing, it truly is a school event.”
Kingham said the event has grown and improved every year to the big success it is today and she expects it to continue growing and improving. “The students and company representatives were given a survey asking what they liked and didn’t like and we will incorporate many of these suggestions into our future planning.”
Kingham said the Career Fairs started in 2006 when John Beaudry, the director of power plant technology at the time, complained that his students were missing too much classroom and shop time because they were attending employment presentations by company representatives who wanted to hire Williamson students. “At that time, someone from a company would call and say they wanted to spend some time speaking with students of a particular trade. We usually accommodated them. This meant students were leaving class and shop several times a week. It was haphazard and not well organized.
“John’s frustration grew to the point that he suggested we organize a career fair for all of the students on one day. I thought this was a wonderful idea, but I had never organized a career fair before, I began my time at Williamson as an English instructor. One of our trustees, Dick Storm 6W2, suggested I talk with an office manager from his power company who was a great organizer.
“She gave me the step by step procedures on how to organize such a thing, how to set it up, how much to charge each company to attend, and other things.
Kingham said the first Career Fair was horrendous because she made the mistake of holding a fair exclusively for the construction trades one day and the next day one for the technical trades. Held in the fall, the construction trades fair attracted 20 companies and the technical trades fair attracted 12 companies.
Seeing that this didn’t work very well, she held another Career Fair a month later that combined all of the trades that attracted 35 companies. She then held another fair in the spring for the horticulture students who, at that time, left Williamson to seek jobs at the end of March.
She realized this method was not working well and the answer was to hold a fair in the fall and one in the spring for all of the students covering all of the trades.
“We started small and grew and improved each year as we learned from past mistakes. When we held a fair that attracted 80 companies, I thought ‘This is phenomenal. Later we were attracting 120 companies and turning some away because we were full. There are a number of companies that have attended every one of our fairs since the beginning and we are truly grateful for their continued support.”
She said it has grown as Williamson and its reputation for producing outstanding employees becomes better known across the nation and because skilled tradesmen are in demand. She added that it also began to grow when it began receiving support from the Office of Institutional Advancement.
The Advancement Department plans, maintains records, raises funds, and executes the Career Fair, said Arlene Snyder, vice president for institutional advancement.
Kingham said, “Even though we had a larger space this year and the largest turnout yet, we still had to turn some companies away. They get upset when we tell them we are full, but they need to take the registration deadline we post seriously.”
The fact that this Career Fair was the largest and most successful of them all is appropriate because this one was Kingham’s last fair as coordinator. “This was my swan song. I’m stepping down from my position as fair coordinator after all these years, but will remain at Williamson part-time teaching resume writing and interviewing skills. I’ve done all I can do with this and it’s time for a new person to come in and take over.”
Stephanie Boon, currently the registrar, will take over as director of placement and internship programs. Kingham has been training Boon for awhile and she was very active at the March fair, helping out and observing.
The fall Career Fair will be held Tuesday, Nov. 7, in the Wesley Student Center. More details to come. For more information, contact Boon at email@example.com or 610-566-1776, ext. 419.