New York State Labor Commissioner M. Patricia Smith visited Niagara Falls High School on Friday to promote the department’s redesigned CareerZone Web site dedicated to finding students professional jobs after graduating college.

Smith said the site targets students as early as middle school and offers free access to in-depth career and educational information for more than 900 occupations, including job descriptions, estimated wages and the job outlook for each career. About half of the occupations include video clips demonstrating people on the job.

“In this tough economic climate, CareerZone can serve as an invaluable tool for today’s students to use as they prepare for their futures in a competitive job environment,” Smith said. “It can help them to develop a ‘worker identity’ early on and focus their studies on the subjects they need in order to succeed in the job market when they leave school.”

Smith pointed out the state’s unemployment rate is 7.8 percent and 9 percent in the Buffalo/Niagara region. She said times of economic downturn are especially hard on inexperienced graduates trying to find jobs in their chosen professions.

Currently, more than 400,000 middle and high school students have active career portfolios and resumes hosted on CareerZone. The site was recently redesigned and now features a special science, technology, engineering and math portal for students to explore careers that are expected to be in high demand.

Smith said nearly any career-related question can be answered on the Web site, including links to college exploration, planning information and actual job openings.

“We’d like to see teachers across the state use CareerZone as part of their curriculum,” Smith said. “When students get excited about the world of work, they get excited about school and they will want to learn.”

According to the Department of Labor, more than one million youths in the state access the site each year in the classroom and at home. Mark Laurrie, interim deputy superintendent of Falls schools, said the district is one of the pioneers in implementing CareerZone into its curriculum.

“It is really something that has touched the lives of our students,” he said.

NFHS Teacher on Special Assignment Joseph Bellonte said the goal is to introduce CareerZone to incoming freshmen and then give them extensive training at the beginning of their senior year. The Web site’s functions are also included in many of the school’s business curriculum programs.

A small group of NFHS students attended Friday’s press conference inside the school’s amphitheater. Seniors Jamie Olander, David Zajac and Anthony Wright said they first started using CareerZone as freshmen and the site has been valuable in helping them narrow down their choices and find the best colleges to pursue their goals.

“It really helps you decide what you want to do,” said Olander, who plans on being an athletic trainer.

Zajac said he was considering becoming a firefighter, police officer or a lawyer before the Web site helped him decide on pursuing a career in education as a social studies teacher. Among the site’s other tools, he said the ability to research job opportunities and pay scales were very helpful.

“It came down to what I really like to do,” he said.