Employees can work at City Hall and never enter "the Penthouse" as it's known. But for a few hours, behind the Penthouse door and inside the maze of an attic, a Northern High School student and Facilities Maintenance Technician Thomas Clark dodged and repaired pipes and lights suspended from the ceiling. Hugh M. is a junior at Northern who joined Clark that day. Hugh climbed a ladder while Clark stood below. Clark watched as Hugh examined a wire on an old fixture being upgraded for LED compatibility. When asked to pose for a photo, Hugh readily agreed and said Clark was a great teacher.
The City’s HVAC system wasn’t the only learning lab open for Northern High School Job Shadow Day. The purpose of the February 2 General Services-sponsored event was to provide first-hand job experiences to juniors and expose them to opportunities that exist in a municipal government environment that they may not have considered.
That Thursday's cold drizzle didn’t dampen spirits. Inside the City’s Maplewood Cemetery office, students peppered staff members with questions about graveside services and traditions.
“It never occurred to me the finances behind a cemetery,” Britney M. said. “This job-shadowing opportunity was eye-opening, and it’s amazing how two ladies (Miss Britney and Miss Robin) run the whole financial side of it. I thank them for my unique experience.”
That’s what Northern High Career Development Coordinator Sharon Johnson envisioned when she asked General Services Assistant Director Kevin Lilley if students could shadow City employees. On the day of the event, Northern students observed employees in the Cemeteries, Facilities, Urban Forestry, Keep Durham Beautiful, Real Estate, Carpentry, Landscape, and Art/Culture/Sustainability divisions.
To avoid the rain, some students stayed inside the General Services main building at 2011 Fay Street and toured the landscaping bay to meet with team members who highlighted equipment used in the field. Some visited the carpentry shop for a lesson on roof construction. On the mechanical side of the facility, Trades Specialist Reggie Peacock gave a lesson on how HVAC systems function, and then gave students a tour of the building’s system, including a review of plans and schematics. Another group joined City staff for a tour of the Durham Bulls Athletic Park while some braved the cold for a lesson outside in the rain. Umbrellas were up while Energy and Sustainability Analyst Paul Cameron explained how and why City employees drive electric vehicles. “This job shadow was informative and helped me learn about how Durham is working behind the scenes to create a more efficient and sustainable Durham for the future,” Salomon G. said.
Around noon, students, chaperones, and City staff enjoyed pizza and conversations to wrap up memories that may last a lifetime.
"I am grateful that the entire General Services staff came forward to host and highlight the opportunities that many students, and even a few teachers, never knew existed in local government,” Lilley said. “Was there a highlight? The thank you cards at the end of the day from the students brought home just how much they enjoyed their time here, and when you hear over and over again... I never knew the City did that... it speaks to just how important our role is, by performing tasks that many just know happen, without knowing by whom."
“The job shadowing event was a great learning experience for me and quite interesting. I look forward to doing it again, or taking an internship with the City of Durham," Hugh said.
Hugh may get that chance. Lilley says the plan is to ask students if they want to work during Spring break, to earn a paycheck and to be exposed to their selected career path that week in March.
To see images from the 2023 Northern High School Job Shadowing Day, visit the City of Durham Flickr page.