Peeks at potential careers

Local industry tours help students look to the future

Hard hats and safety goggles? Check. Loud, humming, technologically advanced machinery? Check. Real advice from real employers? Definitely.

Increasingly throughout Douglas County, educators and industry partners are realizing that one of the best ways to open students’ eyes to possible careers is to put students on a bus and send them to a work site. Experiencing the sights, sounds and smells of such real-world environments might be just what it takes to help a student picture life after high school – and to better visualize what it would take to get there successfully. 

Several local businesses have a history of welcoming high school students, such as Con-Vey Keystone in Roseburg, which engineers and manufactures custom machinery and integration solutions for the wood products manufacturing industry.

“We feel it is important to give to the community educational experiences, but we also want to show the students that there are great career paths in Roseburg available to them,” said David Larecy, Con-Vey’s CEO and president. “We would love to see some of these students become Con-Vey employees in the future. Many of us are from the Roseburg area. We find that many students are not exposed to different engineering, business and manufacturing careers in Roseburg, and they don’t know that these jobs exist or what it takes to get one of these jobs.”

Students tour the Con-Vey facility. Photos courtesy of Con-Vey.

This past winter, students from various local schools and robotics clubs were invited to Con-Vey for a peek of some new robotic equipment the company was testing out. Con-Vey tries to offer tours to schools each year.

Douglas County Partners for Student Success is working to connect more educators to industry partners, by organizing various tours around the county. These tours kicked off in April and continue into May. Along with Con-Vey, participating companies include North River Boats, Songer Construction, CHI Mercy Health, Fred Wahl Marine Construction and Wildlife Safari.

“We are excited for the chance to help facilitate industry tours so that we can provide students with these opportunities on a regular basis,” said Gwen Soderberg-Chase, DCPSS director. “Offering a schedule like this on an ongoing basis means that more teachers will be able to find time to make these tours possible for their students.”

Students from one of Roseburg High School’s many career and technical education classes had the chance to tour FCC Commercial Furniture’s 160,000-square foot facility in Wilbur earlier this year.

The vertically integrated company handles every step of the manufacturing process, from design conception to product delivery. Some of its top clients include Burger King and Chick-fil-A.

Company representatives told students about the types of qualifications employees need for the various positions the business offers, such as drafters and designers. Some of the technology the students are learning in their RHS CTE courses, such as AutoCAD design and drafting software, translates directly to the skills they’ll need for such jobs.

“The marrying of the trades and technology is about to get big,” Preston O’Hara, FCC general manager, told the students.

A quote decorates a wall at the FCC Furniture facility.
Students tour FCC Furniture.

The overlapping of career and technical education and STEAM thinking is a theme that Bright Futures Umpqua, an initiative of DCPSS, is working to highlight in Douglas County. Many high-demand, high-wage jobs exist locally in the trades, which increasingly depend on high-tech machinery and equipment as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Students who explore CTE and STEAM educational opportunities early on will be better poised to enter these jobs out of high school, or to continue their post-secondary education. 

Another way tours and other direct experiences with employers help students is by preparing them to be the type of workers businesses want to hire.

“We discussed job pay and educational expectations for all the jobs as well as soft skill requirements,” Larecy said of the Con-Vey tours.

On the FCC tour, O’Hara explained to students that companies are looking for potential workers who show enthusiasm for their work and demonstrate skills such as respect and showing up on time.

“Soft skills are huge, how you treat other people is huge,” he said. “You’re attitude is No. 1 in my book.”

FCC Furniture General Manager Preston O’Hara speaks to Roseburg High School students.

The idea behind such tours is to spark an interest and to ensure students have realistic information about what it will take to achieve a career in these fields. The goal is to provide students with pathways to future success, as well as help grow Douglas County’s workforce.

Larecy said Con-Vey is in the same situation as many other companies, facing difficulties filling technical positions.

“The hands-on trades are the biggest area of concern for us in the near future,” he said. “We need welders, fabricators, machinists, electricians, mechanical engineers and electrical engineers. We are very supportive of local training and focus on these programs. This will be one of the deciding factors in our ability to grow over the next 10 years.”

Educators and industry partners interested in participating in local tours can call DCPSS Program Administrative Assistant Lisa Davis at 541-440-7848. Bright Futures Umpqua may be able to provide funds to help with transportation, food and sub-reimbursements.

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