By SCOTT AUST
GARDEN CITY – More than 600 high school juniors and seniors from the area – and even a few from as far away as Bird City in northwest Kansas – attended Exploration Day at Garden City Community College on Wednesday.
Exploration Day provides an opportunity for students to explore the programs GCCC has to offer, and to consider possible career paths after graduation. There were no classes Wednesday, allowing attendees to freely interact with college staff and faculty.
“I want you to embrace this day,” GCCC President Ryan Ruda said. “This is your chance, this is your opportunity, to ask questions about our programs. This is your day to learn about the opportunities that exist.”
‘Learn to Learn’
Bob Kreutzer, one of the founders of Tatro Plumbing and current Board Chairman of Finney County Economic Development, told students that Exploration Day provides a great opportunity for them to evaluate what GCCC offers in order to make decisions about career paths and to start preparing to enter the workforce.
Kreutzer, who grew up in Garden City, said like many young people he couldn’t wait to leave small town life for the big city. He left Garden City to go to college, got a degree and moved to Kansas City, Arizona and California. But when he wanted to start a family, he moved back to Garden City “because it’s a great place to be.”
Kreutzer said Tatro started with two employees and has grown to more than 100 employees.
“It was a great career but it’s what I chose to do. Now you get to choose. You still have some work to do,” he said.
According to Kreutzer, the top three expectations employers have for employees are to be responsible by showing up for work each day; to have the ability to communicate and share expectations; and to have the ability to work as a group and share ideas.
“As you go forward, those three things become essential skills,” he said.
In addition, Kreutzer urged students to hone one other skill – learning how to learn. Employers can teach workers all the technical skills necessary to do the job, but it requires workers willing and knowledgeable about learning.
“When you get that diploma, and more than that you have those three essential skills plus you have learned how to learn, you become a very marketable commodity and you’re on your way, starting your career,” he said.
Lona DuVall, President and CEO of Finney County Economic Development, said as of September, there were nearly 2,000 jobs open in Finney County and the top five categories included health care, retail trade, education, manufacturing and accommodation/food services.
But the unemployment rate is so low — just .39% — that there’s less than one-third of a person available to fill each of those open jobs.
“So, there are absolutely opportunities here, you just need to prepare yourselves for them,” DuVall said.
DuVall said studies have shown that the average person changes careers 5 to 7 times in their lifetime, and that’s ok. What you want to do now, may not be what you want to do forever. However, in each of those jobs or careers you are learning new skills that will carry over to the next job.
Referring to local open jobs, DuVall said the top 10 skills employers advertised for included customer service, problem solving, flexibility, attention to detail, interpersonal skills, ability to work independently, decision making, organizational skills, positive attitude, and time management.
DuVall said she loves her job and is passionate about it, but there wasn’t “a degree” that prepared her for it. She urged students to not get too hung up on a chosen career path. But whatever they choose, to be proud of it and passionate about the work they want to do.
“It doesn’t matter what career you choose to focus on. Today’s a great day to find out what all is out there that might interest you but pay attention to those skills. Every employer out there is looking for those same skills from employees,” she said.
You Make the Future
Finally, DuVall said she has often heard young people express an attitude why bother, the world is a mess. She told students there are a lot of people working very hard each day to make sure students have the futures they want.
“I encourage you to get an education, whatever that is, whether it’s a certificate or a doctorate, it doesn’t matter. Get your education. Be prepared. Build your life. And once you’re on your path, get involved and be a part of whatever community you choose to live in. Build a community and a world that you can be happy with. You are the future, and you need to be prepared to take the reins,” she said.