BONNERS FERRY — In high school, the world is wide open for many students. Making that career choice can be both exciting and daunting. Bonners Ferry High School Guidance Counselor Jenny Mackey had a goal: she wanted to not only provide a career day for the students, she went above and beyond to create a personalized experience for each and every student.
Mackey worked for months, beginning in September of last year, to bring the idea to fruition. They started by reaching out and contacting professionals from different occupational areas, then they surveyed the students, asking which professions they were interested in. From there they took the results and started calling more specific professionals within those occupations.
“We gave every single student their choice and we gave every single student their own schedule, because we want to make it benefit them,” said Mackey. “We took the time — a lot of time — going through each preference sheet where they picked their seven and spread out across tables, and we made them all their own schedules.”
“Our goal is to inspire all of you students to think more about your future endeavors and what you would like to do,” said Mackey to the students on Career Day. “It is just a glimpse into what the future may hold. Give it a chance. Be open. Listen.”
The event on Feb. 22 began with a speech from Idaho Department of Labor Northern Regional Economist Sam Wolkenhauer, whose wit and humor had the students and presenters laughing throughout, at the same time, bringing pertinent information.
Wolkenhauer told the students he was here to help them think about their future and place in the economy.
“Which is super scary sort of concept,” he told them.
Although Wolkenhauer studied math in college, he kept the statistics to a minimum, focusing more on anecdotal stories that included corgis in sweaters. This kept the students laughing and open to his concepts.
“Thirty-two percent of the future jobs in Idaho will require, what we call intermediate education, or intermediate certification,” said Wolkenhauer. “This means a job that requires education post high school, but short of a formal four-year degree.”
“We were bombarded with this message, that you have to get a four year degree to have a good career,” he continued. “That was true to a certain extent, but this big piece of information was left out, which is that there is a growing demand for intermediate skill sets or what we call the trades.”
Wolkenhauer, who was approximately 10 years older than the students, explained to them that his generation, as well as other before him, had been pushed toward a four-year degree in college.
“It was college or bust,” he said. “A lot of these types of careers do not require a four-year degree, but they pay just as well, and in many cases they pay better.”
Wolkenhauer also introduced the students to a concept, very different from what most had heard growing up.
“You are often told to follow your passion,” he said. “I think following your passion is the worst advice you can give a young person.”
He went on the tell a story about how his passion was to be a quarterback, but he wasn’t fast enough, big enough, didn’t throw the ball far enough, and how he didn’t like to be tackled. However, he was good at math.
“Following your passion is not a particularly good piece of advice, even though it is the one you hear most often,” said Wolkenhauer. “A much better piece of advice is to follow your skill and follow what you are good at, and I think that you will find a lot of satisfaction in being good at your job.”
After hammering that point home, he told a story about a basketball player that was on top of his game in high school and college. The young man was taller, bigger, faster than his counterparts. The game was easy for him. When he reached the professional lever, his game deteriorated. He was no longer outsizing his opponents.
The students listened and laughed, waiting for the comeback, against all odds ending. Instead, Wolkenhauer surprised them by saying the man is still a terrible player.
“What determines your success is how you react when things become hard for you, not how you perform when things are easy,” he explained.
As his speech drew to a close, he left the students with a few more thoughts and ideas to take away with them.
“In America today, there is a demand for all sorts of skills. You don’t have to be a super academic person to succeed in the U.S. today,” Wolkenhauer explained. “If you follow what you are good at, and you persevere when things get hard- even if they have been previously easy for you- I guarantee that there are so many opportunities for you to have a very successful life in this great country of ours.”
The students were then turned loose, individualized schedules in hand, to visit with five different career professionals in half hour sessions. The professionals were scattered about the school, assigned to rooms that were equipped with the necessary technology needed for their presentations.
The professionals ranged from a pilot, Tammy Blanford from Horizon Air, to author Ginny Hartman. Andrakay Pluid was there representing lawyers, and Wanda Wilkerson was there to speak about being a nurse. There was a graphic designer, cosmetologist, elementary school teacher, law enforcement, and more.
“Thanks to career day, I was given the opportunity to meet people interested, or experienced, in the field I want to pursue after High School,” said sophomore Clinten Hopkins.
Chad Burt, DVM, from Bonners Ferry Veterinary Clinic was one of the presenters. He had a unique perspective, talking about all the different jobs that he had since he was 18, which included summer counselor, golf cart mechanic, bartender, industrial electrician, and much more.
“The reason I showed you guys that list is that I didn’t start my undergrad until I was 30 years old,” said Burt. “For those of you graduating this year, you don’t have to make a decision in the next three months. There is plenty of life ahead of you. You’re not sure what you want to do? Try it all.”
In the end, it was all about the students.
“Career day allowed me to attain a realistic picture of my future, while exploring each of my interests in a fun environment,” said senior Maya Roberts.
Many career days at high schools focus on just the seniors. This program included all grades, giving freshmen the same opportunities as seniors.
“At career day, I got a chance to see what I might be interested in doing after high school which was helpful,” said freshman Ally Wages. “I went to a class to be an attorney and realized it wasn’t really my thing. I also took a cosmetology class and came to find that it would be a good fall back career. I really enjoyed career day and hope we have it next year.”