Armed with an arsenal of questions and a chunky sky blue colored pen, Cora Lesar was ready to face her future head-on Wednesday.
The 14-year-old Signal Mountain Middle/High School student was one of about 3,000 Hamilton County Schools eighth graders to attend the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's 10th annual Career Crunch job and work readiness fair that continues today.
Though preparing for a job before old enough to drive might seem premature, Lesar said she already has a plan -- sort of.
"I'm debating being an FBI agent or a singer," she said. "I think being an FBI agent would be fun and exciting, but being a singer would be more self expressive."
At the fair, more than 50 local employers, magnet schools and colleges help guide students to the types of classes or training they need for jobs after high school. Employers in fields such as manufacturing, health care, communications and accounting, among others, are represented at the two-day event.
After visiting several local employers, Lesar said she came to the conclusion that "you need to have a passion for what you want to do."
That's what Mattie Moran, director of education and work force development for the Chamber, hopes all students can take away from the fair. She said the readiness program is meant to introduce students to different careers and showcase the little-known opportunities in the work force, encouraging students to look forward to the future.
"Our aim is to encourage them to stay in school, graduate and pursue lifelong learning," Moran said.
Thirteen-year-old Lydia DuBoise, an eighth grader at Signal Mountain Middle/High School, said she's been thinking about a career for more than a year. She plans to pursue an MBA and study mechanical engineering in college, then seek a managerial position.
Already planning what courses she'll take in high school to put her on the right path, she doesn't worry so much about the job market, but does think about whether she'll be able to carry such a heavy load.
"I know I can do it as long as I set my mind to it," DuBoise said. "But then I wonder, 'What if I'm not good enough?'"
Since not all students take the college route, several employers offer alternate routes for those seeking immediate employment upon high school graduation.
"We tell them that they can use different skills and there are nontraditional jobs out there," said Doneda Harris, a human resources representative for Komatsu. "College is not for everyone, and that's why we're here, even though we do push college, too."