Virtual careers expo here to stay

On 28 April 2021, students from around New South Wales logged on to the second annual My Journey Virtual Career Expo, the online careers fair with a focus on vocational career pathways.

Image: Virtual auditorium

More often than not, big careers fairs tend to be dominated by employers promoting career pathways requiring a tertiary education. Think banks, insurance companies, and big public sector institutions. The My Journey Virtual Careers Expo was conceived to address that imbalance by prioritising vocational careers, and the apprenticeships and traineeships that lead to them. The inaugural expo was delivered virtually in response COVID-19 restrictions, but pandemic or not, organisers are keen for the online format to stay.

“We’re going to stick with the virtual delivery, because it reaches students right across the state,” says Glenda O’Brien, Workplace Learning Coordinator, Pathways and Transitions at NSW Education.

“If you look at the attendees, you’ll see that many of the schools that accessed the expo are ones that wouldn’t otherwise be able to travel to one of the bigger careers fairs.”

The second running of the event saw a range of employers ‘bump in’ to the virtual exhibition hall where they were joined by various support services, training providers and apprenticeship centers. TAFE NSW had a big presence at the expo, too.

Free to attend for all NSW students, the virtual format offers a number of advantages over traditional, large-scale careers fairs. Students can attend any time over the course of the day, from wherever they’re based, which means no travel costs or time off school. The virtual platform also means parents and carers can attend, something that has the potential to lead to better ‘careers conversations’ and home and, hopefully, better decisions around subject selection and further study.

But there is another advantage to the virtual format — the sense of security it affords students. Striking up a conversation with a prospective employer at a careers fair is not something that comes naturally to many students, but the online delivery, and the chat function built into the platform, seems to make things easier, according to Glenda.

“I sat on my Pathways and Transitions stall, and I couldn’t get off,” says Glenda, noting that students kept dropping by for virtual chats.

“I had a young girl come on at 4:30 in the afternoon and you could tell she was quite timid from her one-word responses, but she was also really curious. By the end of our conversation, she was really engaged and asking some great questions.”

Getting a virtual careers expo up and running is a herculean task, and a fairly costly one. This year, John Purcell and Ashleigh Kelly at Career Links, a Newcastle-based not-for-profit, were instrumental in both organising the expo and funding it. For example, Career Links brokered valuable sponsorship deals that went towards funding the online platform used to run the expo. However, despite the administrative and financial costs associated with staging the event, and the desire on the part of organisers to see more organisations contribute to the funding of it, there’s denying the value of the expo.

“It’s definitely a lot of work to stage an event like this, but when you see the engagement from students it makes it all worthwhile,” says Glenda.

Apparently, NSW students feel the same way. As the expo drew to a close, thousands of students filed out of the virtual exhibition hall, their book bags brimming with information on specific courses and training providers, and some of the rewarding careers that vocational education can lead to.

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