INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Department of Education wants more Hoosier students to learn about career options earlier on in their education.

According to Indiana Education Secretary Katie Jenner, students are increasingly being exposed to careers starting in elementary school through guest speakers and other activities.

As much as 40% of Hoosier high school students have no plan for life after graduation, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

Junior Achievement’s annual career fair for eighth graders at the state fairgrounds is one example of the efforts to reduce that trend, Jenner said during a visit to the event Wednesday.

More than 100 employers from various fields and 11,000 students turned out for this year’s fair, according to Jennifer Burk, president and CEO of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana.

“We think that’s a really critical time to reach students,” Burk said.

Jenner echoed that sentiment. Choosing a career path in middle school allows students to take advantage of more opportunities in high school, she said.

“Work-based learning opportunities and access to credentials of value, including CTE,” or career and technical education, Jenner said.

With jobs in growing fields like semiconductor production headed to Indiana, Jenner said she is focused on preparing students for the careers of today and tomorrow.

“We know in the K-12 space, especially in the 11th and 12th grade year, we have to be very, very nimble in what we’re providing in terms of classes and pathways for students,” Jenner said.

After visiting the career fair, some students said they will use what they’ve learned to pursue their passions.

“I think I want to go into business ’cause we went over to the business part and it was one of my favorites,” said eighth grader Cici.

“I’m going to get into technology,” said Donathan, another eighth grader. “That’s what I wanted to do when I grew up anyways. So I really want to get into technology.”

The Indiana Department of Education is now using career exploration as one way to measure a school district’s performance. That data will be available on the state’s online education dashboard this fall, according to state officials.