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'Empower the Possible'

Students come face to face with trades, other professions at expo

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For Bureau of Land Management forester Shaun Harkins, the chance to expose youth to possible careers in natural resources is also an opportunity to pass on the importance of land stewardship. Harkins grew up in Oregon and wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps as a forester not only because he loves the woods but so that he could help ensure forests are managed well.

“Living in Oregon, we’re spoiled with our natural beauty and our natural forests that surround us here,” Harkins said from his booth Sept. 26 at the 2019 Southern Oregon Trades Career Expo at Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville.  “Our forests produce a lot of wood products and secondary wood products that people don’t even realize they use. We’ve built a lot of homes in our country and we use a lot of wood products, i.e., paper, cardboard, pencils, you name it, even some makeup is made from wood products.”

Harkins and his fellow BLM employees were among more than 100 employers and organizations at the expo that drew more than 1,400 students. Youth were bussed in from Douglas, Coos, Curry, Klamath, Jackson and Josephine counties for hands-on and educational experiences. This year’s theme was “Empower the Possible.”

The idea behind SOTCE, which was organized as a biennial event in 2017 by the Oregon Department of Transportation, Phoenix Charter School in Roseburg and the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, is to promote living-wage careers in a variety of professional fields and trades.

“Like any company, we’re definitely wanting to expose students to the opportunities that they have, whether they go to college and get a degree or they want to enter into a trade profession,” said Sam Carter, regional business manager for Pacific Power.

Students flocked to Pacific Power’s bucket trucks, where they were fitted with harnesses and sent up into the sky to experience what it’s like to work as a linesman for the company. Another station featuring a distribution system and electrical equipment also gave students a hands-on experience, while Pacific Power human resources representatives shared information about the wide variety of employment opportunities students could look to in the future.

“(Students) can hear us talking, lecturing in class, all the time, but until you actually see and interact with the tradespeople, it doesn’t click,” said Douglas High School science teacher Gwen Feero.

Douglas High sophomore Kymalin Steidle was impressed with all the booths she saw at the event and enjoyed the chance to drill holes into wood at the construction demonstration area.

Events like this, she said, are a good opportunity for students.

“I feel like they can learn more about future careers if they came here,” she said.

Oregon Laborers business representative Gary Jackson, who watched over a concrete demo station where students tried their hands at using a jack-hammer, said the trades are lacking in skilled and properly trained workers.

“We need more of them, so it’s just a way to show these kids what we do, how we do it and the potential to make a good life, a good living doing this type of work,” he said. “That it’s still out there, alive and doing well. And there is a demand, a huge demand for these types of workers.”

North River Boats representatives also attended the event. Accounting and HR rep Jordan Acree agreed the expo provided a good opportunity to reach potential future employees.

“We have done a big expansion of the factory,” she said. “We have a brand-new building and a brand-new welding training center, so we are growing and we need more people to work.”

Douglas County Partners for Student Success Executive Director Gwen Soderberg-Chase attended the event and handed out blue and orange SOTCE T-shirts to local students. DCPSS and its Bright Futures Umpqua initiative work to expose youth to career and technical education opportunities as well as experiences that promote STEAM thinking.

“This event, with its vast sampling of employment opportunities, is a perfect example of how CTE and STEAM education are merging more than ever before,” Soderberg-Chase said. “Students can see that the trades have become increasingly technical and advanced, and that these jobs are legitimate options for future success.”

Sierra Covey, a senior at Phoenix, said the event can help spark students’ interests in new fields.

“I think it’s a really good chance for someone to come out and find out what they’d be interested in,” she said. “Some people can just show up, not really know what they like and then go to a booth and figure out that, ‘Hey, that actually really interests me.’”

Several other students agreed the event serves as an opportunity to explore options for future career paths, and they appreciated the time employers and company representatives spent with them.

Riddle High freshman Damien Burham attended the event with his school’s cheer team to collect cans for fundraising. But he was also able to check out the career booths.

Getting to shake hands and have meaningful conversations with the exhibitors stood out to him as a highlight. 

“It makes me feel important and listened to,” he said.

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