Hard hats for distribution during the Construction Education Foundation of Georgia (CEFGA) career expo on Thursday, March 12, 2020, at the World Congress Center in Atlanta. This year, additional safety measures were implemented, including mandatory hard hats and wipe downs of surfaces. CHRISTINA MATACOTTA, FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Photo: Christina Matacotta
Photo: Christina Matacotta

Virus risk halts student career expo in middle

A large event for high school and middle school students was canceled Thursday, midway through it, because of the coronavirus.

The annual CEFGA CareerExpo, which introduces students to building trades, was geared to break in its new location, the Georgia World Congress Center, with nearly as many participants as the thousands in previous years, but calls began trickling Wednesday that schools across the state had chosen to keep students away from large crowds.

The day before Thursday’s opening, CEO Scott Schelar had only four cancellations. “Those were from individual schools,” he said. “We haven’t had any school systems decide to forgo the expo.”

But changes in how governments and businesses handle the pandemic move as swiftly as the virus itself.

“CEFGA has announced that it is cancelling the second day of the CareerExpo. The situation is rapidly changing and with recent statements from President Trump and Gov. Kemp, we decided this was the best decision for our students and partners,” said Shelar.

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The two-day event is an opportunity for students to interact directly with professionals in construction and utility, highway, electrical and mechanical contracting; energy, mining and more. Hands-on demonstrations let students use construction equipment and try their hand at climbing a roof or operating a scissor lift.

The event’s largest component is always the SkillsUSA competition where students showcase their skills in several construction-related disciplines. With the cancellation of day two, that event won’t take place this year.

This year, measures to keep attendees as safe as possible included a “no hand-shake” policy and cancelling some planned workshops and the Friday night dance.

The event had become so popular this was the first year it took place at the GWCC. With nearly 10,000 attendees last year, it had outgrown the Georgia Convention Center. Several schools had planned an overnight trip to allow those outside metro Atlanta to enjoy the full experience.

Several high school seniors came to network and try to get internships or apprenticeships.

“I’m going into engineering,” said Ikaika Machain, a senior at Maxwell High School of Technology. “I won’t be actually using most of this equipment, but I’ll need to know what it does and how it fits into making a structure sound.”

His classmates all nodded. They were also looking at careers in engineering and architecture and didn’t want to miss out on this last opportunity before heading off to college.

“We’ve been using hand sanitizer after every exhibit,” said Madison Minton, also a senior. “This is too important to pass up.”

Others in the group were following the precautions but weren’t much concerned about catching anything.

“We’re young and healthy,” said Giovanna Ramirez. “We might be sick for a few days, but I’m sure we’ll recover.”

Health officials have said so far that the virus poses lower risk to younger people.

For some, the trip home was more than an hour. “It kind of sucks,” said a group of students from Mississippi. “We’ll find something to do tomorrow. This IS Atlanta after all.”

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