Hundreds of high school seniors are at Shelton State Community College Wednesday for a massive job fair that seeks to connect them with employers in the area, but the leader behind the workforce development initiative said this week he is disappointed with the level of turnout expected at the annual event.

Donny Jones, the Executive Director of West AlabamaWorks!, said their WOW 2.0 Career Fair is an elite opportunity for graduating students to make connections and find opportunities with dozens of high-caliber employers in and around Tuscaloosa.

The problem, Jones said, is that his organization has gone above and beyond to make the event the very best it can be, and participation rates are failing to keep up.

“We have over 978 jobs available for children that are graduating from high school. That’s 978 jobs that are high demand jobs, and unfortunately, only 250 high school seniors are registered to attend," said Jones said.

The career fair presents countless opportunities for young people to jumpstart careers in construction, hospitality, healthcare, manufacturing and more, Jones said, and with West AlabamaWorks! serving nine counties and tens of thousands of high school students, the event should have been a no-brainer home run.

While the team at West AlabamaWorks! is still on-site Wednesday to ensure the students who participate have every employment opportunity they possible can, Jones said it's hard not to be let down by the low turnout.

“We're disappointed that more students did not sign up for this event, so we want to do everything we can to get the word out and let parents and students know that these great jobs are available, and they can start as soon as they graduate high school," Jones said. "These companies will onboard them and bring them on these jobs where they're starting from anywhere from $15 to $22 an hour."

The 28 companies present at the Career Fair are already issuing contingent job offers to the seniors in attendance, WAW said on social media Wednesday morning shortly after the event began.

Workforce development has long been a looming issue in Tuscaloosa and industry experts said last month that thousands of jobs will need to be filled in the next several years.

As such, Jones said the leadership at schools within and without Tuscaloosa County should be working hand-in-hand with WOW to fill those jobs, aid area employers and, most importantly, create better futures for their students.

"This is what it's all about - helping those seniors go directly into the workforce who aren’t going to college," Jones said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story and its headline placed blame on area school systems for the low level of participation in WOW 2.0. That language has since been amended to still express West AlabamaWorks' disappointment in the event's relatively low turnout without being overly critical of educators who have had and will continue to foster a strong working relationship with the organization.   

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