Woodland Days Career Fair inaugural event connects students with local businesses

Students learn about living-wage career opportunities

WOODLAND — More than 700 students learned about career opportunities right in their home region from more than 40 businesses at the inaugural Woodland Days Career Fair, a partnership between Woodland Public Schools and the Port of Woodland to offer a career fair specifically designed for students considering living-wage careers after high school not necessarily requiring a college degree or additional education.

Partnerships lead to successful futures for students

The partnership between the Port of Woodland and Woodland Public Schools stemmed from a renewed focus at the district level to align Career Technical Education (CTE) classes offered by Woodland’s schools with the needs of local businesses in Clark and Cowlitz counties.

“The job market outside the walls of our schools is rapidly changing,” explained Asha Riley, Assistant Superintendent for the district. “Putting our students in touch with professionals in our workforce while still in school is one of the best ways to help our kids think about future career opportunities.”

Woodland students Kylie Knitz, Jaelyn Dodds, and Karlee Cresap speak with a Woodland City police officer about his experiences working in law enforcement. Photo courtesy of Woodland Public Schools
Woodland students Kylie Knitz, Jaelyn Dodds, and Karlee Cresap speak with a Woodland City police officer about his experiences working in law enforcement. Photo courtesy of Woodland Public Schools

Bill Marcum, CEO of the Kelso Longview Chamber of Commerce, gave a motivating keynote speech before each grade of students entered the fair. “With the ‘silver tsunami’ of retirees that will be leaving jobs in the next 6-7 years, there will be a wide variety of job opportunities available to students who are attending high school right now,” Marcum told the students. “The companies attending this career fair offer you an amazing opportunity to research what you could be doing in the future, including jobs right here in Woodland or anywhere else you want to live.”

Marcum shared opportunities not requiring four-year college degrees including a story about his niece who now works as a dental hygienist after completing a two-year program to earn a starting salary of $80,000 a year.
Following his keynote, Marcum shared tips for local businesses to reach students, too. “Businesses need to partner with their local high schools to give students hands-on experience with different kinds of careers,” he explained. “It’s not all our educators’ responsibility to teach kids about jobs after graduation – businesses can cultivate their own group of potential employees by speaking to students about the different careers available to them before they even graduate.”
The Kelso-Longview Chamber of Commerce is developing the Cowlitz-Business Education Connection, a website specifically designed to offer ways for students to connect with businesses (www.cowlitzbec.com).  “Our database provides local CTE teachers opportunities to line up job shadowing, internships, and more for their students,” said Marcum. “Since it’s a work in progress, we’re always looking for businesses, teachers, professionals, students, and other community members to help us make the site an even better resource for both employers and students alike.”

Inaugural Woodland Days Career Fair exceeds expectations

The event far exceeded the expectations for both Woodland Public Schools and the Port of Woodland. “Our goal was to have 25 businesses attend and over 40 participated,” said Jennifer Keene, executive director for the Port of Woodland. “Woodland Days was beyond our expectations and truly hit on what we are trying to achieve for both the school district and the Port – creating a place for our kids in the future by providing them opportunities for a successful future right here in our region.”

More than 40 local businesses attended Woodland Days to speak with students like Spenser Best (pictured here, right). Photo courtesy of Woodland Public Schools
More than 40 local businesses attended Woodland Days to speak with students like Spenser Best (pictured here, right). Photo courtesy of Woodland Public Schools

Organizations attending the career fair raved about the opportunities to reach students and potential future employees. “Employers were extremely positive about the caliber of the students at Woodland High School with several planning a follow-up hiring event for summer positions and internships,” said Keene. “One of the Port Commissioners, Paul Cline, is a retired teacher from Woodland, attended the event, and spoke about how positive and exciting the event was – all of us at the Port were thrilled with the turnout.”
Riley shared Keene’s gratitude toward participating businesses. “For our local companies to send employee representatives during a workday to speak with our students was a huge sacrifice that we appreciate so much,” she said. “I can’t overstate what a blessing that was for our students and kids in a small town where there aren’t many opportunities to learn about the wide variety of careers we have right in our local region.”
Local businesses and organizations chipped in to ensure the career fair’s success. Woodland’s Burgerville donated 50 gift cards to use as raffle prizes while the Grace Community Church lent 12 tables for businesses to use as displays.

“Feedback from the event has been off-the-charts with all attending businesses wanting to return for future events,” said Sarah Hadaller, the district’s coordinator for the career fair. “Several organizations are interested in other opportunities to contribute including guest speakers to visit classrooms, mock interviews for students, resume review, and many more.”

Attending employers offer valuable advice to future graduates

For Rob Rich, Vice President of Marine Services for the Shaver Transportation Company, the opportunity to participate in the Woodland Days Career Fair hit close to home. “Not only do I live in Woodland, but many of our crewmembers are graduates from Clark and Cowlitz county schools with several from Woodland, Ridgefield, and Kalama,” he said. “We want to help students understand the importance of dedicating themselves to their own futures by developing skills vital to their success such as learning how to get along with others; asking how to take on more responsibility; and figuring out how to be more of an asset to their employers which will ensure their success in the workplace.”
Rich went on to discuss how a graduate’s first position after high school likely won’t be their last. “Look at your first job as the opportunity to learn and move up within a company to help you land your dream job,” he advised. “Think of your first job as the first step in a career, not just a job, as many of the opportunities for graduates today offer good pay, great benefits, and high job security right from the start – working on skills will ensure new employees have a successful career for their future.”

Tribeca Transport's Brad Cushman (truck driver, left) and Eric Thwaites (chief operating officer, right) show Shaun Sadlier (student, center) some of the features of one of their tractor trailers at the Woodland Days Career Fair. Photo courtesy of Woodland Public Schools
Tribeca Transport’s Brad Cushman (truck driver, left) and Eric Thwaites (chief operating officer, right) show Shaun Sadlier (student, center) some of the features of one of their tractor trailers at the Woodland Days Career Fair. Photo courtesy of Woodland Public Schools

Eric Thwaites, Chief Operations Officer for Tribeca Transport, attended Woodland Days to encourage students to consider careers in trucking and transportation. A starting truck driver for Tribeca Transport can earn more than $40,000 a year with full medical and retirement benefits as well as paid time off and career development education opportunities. “The entire United States is experiencing a huge driver shortage currently so there are a wealth of jobs for high school graduates right here in Cowlitz County,” he said. “Many graduates may feel intimidated about the idea of driving trucks or a career in trucking, however the trucks are easier to operate than ever before and our drivers are home every day – it’s not a life on the road.”
Thwaites was thrilled with the turnout of both students and employers to the Woodland Days Career Fair. “This is the biggest career day I’ve attended with the largest number of employers attending as well as truly engaged students who are very interested in the different opportunities,” he said. “We want to get as many students as possible interested in trucking as a career because they’re our company’s future.”
Currently, Tribeca Transport needs both additional mechanics and drivers with a fleet of 17 trucks and 26 trailers. “There’s a lot of growth in our company as we’re very specialized in what we do,” explained Thwaites.
Heather Kavanagh, Communications Supervisor for the Washington State Patrol, attended Woodland Days Career Fair to encourage students to consider careers in law enforcement. Although students don’t need any additional schooling beyond a high school diploma to work as a state trooper or dispatch, a two-year Associates Degree will earn graduates an additional 2% salary increase. “We need graduates interested in helping others in their time of need who want to help people handle emergency situations,” she said. “Personally, I love helping out and giving back, but I also want to be behind the scenes so working as a dispatcher was a perfect fit for me.”

Future plans for partnerships between schools and businesses

Woodland Public Schools and the Port of Woodland are already working on plans for future partnership opportunities after seeing the success of the inaugural career fair. “The level of dedication from the school district to make a successful event was incredible,” said Keene. “Plus, the fact so many businesses participated in our inaugural event is simply humbling to me; these businesses took time out of workdays to speak with students one-on-one – it was amazing to see the spark in students’ eyes as they learned about the possibilities for their future.”
As a parent of two children attending Woodland’s schools, Keene is proud of the district serving her community. “We are so blessed have such great schools with amazing students and staff offering programs that reach out to all students, not just those who are college-bound,” she said. “It is amazing to think my own kids may have this same opportunity to be exposed to these industries and businesses in the near future.”

Career Technical Education at Woodland Public Schools

Students attending Woodland High School can select from a wide variety of Career Technical Education (CTE) courses specifically designed to help students develop the skills they need for careers and trades following graduation which will offer living-wages to support families.
Woodland Public Schools has partnered with local businesses and organizations to continually align the district’s course offerings with the need of employers seeking high school graduates looking for good jobs. “We want to regularly review what we do to ensure our students receive the opportunities to learn skills they need in the workforce,” said Riley. “We currently have a partnership with the Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) Network to help better line up what we do as schools with what businesses need from employees.”
Currently, Woodland High School offers the following CTE courses:
Automotive Maintenance
Computer Applications
Computer Science
Culinary Arts
Digital Arts
Early Childhood Education
Financial Fitness
Floral Design
Independent Living
Maritime Trades
Medical Science
Office Aide
Website Design
Woodworking Foundations

Businesses, professionals, and community members interested in partnering with Woodland Public Schools can contact the district office at (360) 841-2700 or email Asha Riley, Assistant Superintendent of Woodland Public Schools, at rileya@woodlandschools.org.

Information provided by Woodland Public Schools.

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