SPOKANE — With many ag professionals preparing to retire in the coming years, the next generation will have many opportunities available to them, high school students were told during a career fair last week.
Agricultural professionals talked with students during Odessa High School’s Future Business Leaders of America career fair at the Spokane Ag Expo and Pacific Northwest Farm Forum.
FBLA advisor Terri King said more careers were represented this year. Last year’s project placed first in the nation at the Future Business Leaders of America National Leadership Conference in Anaheim, Calif., in June 2013.
King hoped this year’s expanded approach would give students more ideas about careers they might previously not have thought about.
“I just hope students find something they’re passionate about doing,” she said. “I hope they can find their niche and choose a job that they’re really excited about being involved in every day.”
Jason Johnston, a McGregor Company crop advisor in Rosalia, Wash., said it can be intimidating for students trying to figure out what they’d like to do for the rest of their lives.
But the aging population in agriculture means many opportunities as many people retire, he said.
“Within the next 10 years, almost half of the guys that do what I do are going to be retired,” he said. “There’s a ton of opportunity in ag.”
Employers are likely to want to help students with a genuine interest, he said.
“There’s a ton of jobs you haven’t heard of yet, and you don’t know exist out there,” he told students. “The main thing is just going out there, getting some experience trying to figure out what it is you want to do and find something you really enjoy.”
Joe Oschner, a welding trainer with Oxarc in Spokane, said he was drawn to the creative opportunities his job offers.
“I think it’s hard for kids to see that there are a lot of avenues,” he said. “You go to school for one thing and you end up down a completely different path because your eyes get opened up.”
He pointed to apprenticeship programs that offer on-the-job training and quick certification.
“A lot of these guys grow up around a welder and equipment that needs to be repaired,” Oschner said. “Most kids don’t realize it’s becoming a very high-tech industry. You look at your grandpa’s old welder sitting the garage and you think that’s all there is to it, but nowadays there’s just so much more technology there.”
Like other agricultural industries, the average age of the welder is in the mid-50s, Oschner said.
“We have a lot of opportunities right around the corner in the next five, 10 years,” he said.
King isn’t certain where the FBLA’s program will go in future years. If there’s a need, the school is willing to participate, she said.