Thousands Attend JOCO WORKS Career Expo At JCC

Caterpillar representatives work alongside Johnston County school student.

SMITHFIELD – The JOCO WORKS Career Expo kicked off today (Thursday) at Johnston Community College with nearly 2,000 of Johnston County’s eighth graders in attendance.

The event is an industry-led collaborative supported by education, business, civic, and government partners created to meet the Johnston County workforce needs of the future.

“JOCO WORKS is a large collaborative effort. More than 13 organizations in Johnston County had to come together to help present this opportunity to our eighth graders,” said Mike Mancuso, President and CEO of Triangle East Chamber of Commerce.

Novo Nordisk representatives work alongside a Johnston County school student.

More than 70 companies from 10 different fields including Agriculture; Biotechnology; Construction; Healthcare; Hospitality, Tourism and Retail; Information Technology; Manufacturing; Public Works and Safety; Transportation; and Workforce Resources, participated in the two-day hands-on event (Nov. 14-15), with huge collaboration from across the county including Johnston Community College, Johnston County Public Schools, and the business community.

“I’m honored to be part of this,” said Mancuso. “To see all of these organizations working together for the good of the county and for the good of our youth is just a phenomenal experience.”

A student works with one of the hands-on Caterpillar displays.

According to Josh Thompson, Head of Human Resource Services for North American Operations for Novo Nordisk, the event’s presenting sponsor, JOCO WORKS provides a unique experience for students.

“This is something completely different than we’ve ever been involved in,” said Thompson. “This has really been a collaboration between industry, between local government, between chambers of commerce and our school system. It is really exciting for us because a strong workforce is vital to our success. It’s very important that we foster a strong collaboration between industry and the community and the school system.”

Many of the businesses participating also had a similar take on the uniqueness of the event.

A student rides the interactive Novo Nordisk stationary bicycle.

“This event is totally different than anything we’ve seen in the past,” said Johnston Health Manager of Human Resources Robert Cupp. “Typically we would set up a booth and have students or visitors come and ask us questions. However, this type of event allows students to come and actually touch and see and feel things that we’re actually doing in healthcare today. Hopefully we can light a spark in them that will open up their imagination, so that they can see what is not only available in the healthcare arena, but also let them know that they can do those careers here at home in Johnston County.”

Spokesperson for the event Kelly Wallace, Vice President of Operations for Triangle East Chamber of Commerce, said she feels like the event was important for students and Johnston County because of the growing need for a qualified labor force.

“We’ve been really worried about the silver tsunami that’s coming. All of our baby boomers are getting ready to retire, and we don’t have the qualified labor force coming behind them to fill their shoes,” said Wallace. “We’re at a critical point where we’ve got to start training our young folks and in these trades that are good paying jobs and quite satisfying.”

An aerial photo of JOCO WORKS Expo at Johnston Community College on Nov. 14, 2019.

Wallace added that in order to get future generations interested in a career pathway a different approach is going to be needed.

“We need to change the conversation with our parents and our educators. A four-year degree is not for everyone, and the pathway to college may not be immediately after high school,” said Wallace. “I think the message that you have to have a four year degree to be successful has to change.”

Smithfield Middle School student Justin Snead said he was impressed by the event, particularly the  agriculture exhibit.   “I enjoyed the agriculture exhibit because I got to learn about agricultural activities and the different things it provides,” said Snead.

An aerial photo of JOCO WORKS Expo at Johnston Community College on Nov. 14th, 2019.

Archer Lodge Middle School student Mara Duran said she was thankful for the opportunity to participate in many of the hands-on activities.  “I got to learn about jobs and careers that I didn’t really know were out there,” said Duran. “You really get a feel of what you’ll be doing every day in job. Like with the Caterpillar exhibit, you got to move the machinery, and that’s what you’d be doing if you wanted to move stuff.”

Snead added that he felt JOCO WORKS was a great opportunity, and it’s an opportunity past generations didn’t get to receive.  “I hope students think about how much work that the sponsors and the schools had to put into this activity and just think about how important it is, how much time it took out to other people all day”, said Snead. “I think we should at least enjoy it and make something of it.”

According to Thompson, he hopes JOCO WORKS is something that can be held every year and that continues to make a positive impact on eighth grade students and the school system.

More About 2019 JOCO WORKS
The two-day long collaborative culminated in a curriculum and experience-based career exposition reserved specifically for 4,000 Johnston County eighth-grade students from 8:30-1:30 p.m. Nov. 14-15 on the main campus at JCC.

The event was open to the general public, home school students, high school students, post- secondary students, parents, community members, and job seekers from 2-4 p.m. on Nov. 14. Home school students should register to attend at

Each career path included sample occupations, general education requirements, and average salaries within the industry.

The 2019 JOCO WORKS Presenting Sponsor was Novo Nordisk.