Clay and Platte County students gained insight into the explosion of high-paying, local jobs during the third 2021 Career Speaker Series on Nov. 16.
Sponsored by the Northland Education and Business Alliance, the program is part of a monthly virtual career presentation featuring insights into area careers offering high pay and benefits. The November focus included architecture, construction, science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Speakers said that “soft skills” like simply showing up on time or communication were a consistent priority. However, they also stressed the almost unbelievable demand and opportunity these careers offer today.
“There are just so many opportunities here,” noted Martha McCabe of the Kansas City STEM Alliance. “There’s a lot of excitement here.”
Engineering was a good example. Although middle, junior and senior high school students may not know it, Kansas City is a national, even international center for many of these fields and related careers.
“Kansas City is the world capital of sports architecture,” McCabe noted. “I get excited about just the variety of activities that are happening right here.”
A big surprise involved the variety of opportunities within even a single area. Brian Freeman, owner of HomeSmart Legacy construction, started his career “in a pickup truck” learning the basics. Today he deals with everything from supply chains to advanced design.
Meghan Morsches of Restaurant, Pub & Games, initially entered nursing after earning a bachelor’s degree. Today, she designs and builds gaming centers and other amenities for restaurants, although none of her earlier skills are “wasted.”
“Being able to connect with people and market yourself is really important no matter what you do,” she said. “Also, attention to detail and a drive for excellence will get you a long way in any industry.”
Tiffany Moore, facilities and construction manager for The Built Companies, used her drafting, organizational and problem-solving abilities to try several jobs that led to a management position. Others noted numerous opportunities for internships, mentorships and apprenticeships are often readily available if a young person makes an effort.
Another assumption students should avoid is thinking that so-called “soft skills” are unimportant. Ron Gregg, owner/engineer for Gregg Engineering and Technology, said even though he spends a lot of time writing computer code, these so-called basic skills are invaluable.
“The ability to deal with people well and get invited back (for more business), that’s critical,” Gregg said. “Simple problem-solving skills and people skills are a must in any business.”
One Area, Many Skills
While basic skills like getting along with others are important in any field, young people should also know that career areas are anything but monolithic. All architects or builders will obviously work in or around construction, but individuals may focus on work in health care or education areas, working on just hospitals or just schools. Each “sub” area will include unique demands, regulations and challenges. That variety is a big draw for many.
Donald Slack, training director and apprenticeship coordinator for the Greater Kansas City Laborers’ Training Center, starts his day in an office, then moves outdoors where he works with those just beginning careers in several fields. Similar variety is a big draw for Jessica Carson, a construction manager with JE Dunn.
“There are many facets and layers and moving parts – it makes your day to day very different,” Carson said. “Communicating with partners is critical. You have to make sure your construction partners are all in the loop and that everything is right.”
This variety does bring some surprising demands. Laura Wagner, executive director of Western Missouri & Kansas LECET, noted her language arts skills are critical. “Writing is one of the most important things for me in this job,” she said.
Slack agreed and added another surprise as well. “Listening skills are really important,” he said. “The minute you think you know it all, you’re in trouble.”
Nearly all speakers cited dramatic opportunities in this area – opportunities for jobs, as well as learning opportunities for students interested in these fields. One of those is the Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS).
“CAPS is in all Clay and Platte County schools and we’re lining up 340 internships right now,” said Brett Kisker, NEBA member and executive director for Northland CAPS. “Plus, many of the high schools are doing STEM programs. Talk with your counselors and find out what’s available.”
Even with all of these opportunities, these “hands on” careers have another draw that might be missed, which is seeing concrete results when a project is complete.
“It’s very rewarding to see our projects when they’re done,” explained Lily Riehl, structural engineer with Hollis + Miller Architects. “It’s really amazing to see a building that you worked on. That’s one of the things that really draws me to this work.”
Others involved in the Nov. 16 series included NEBA co-chairs Courtney Reyes and Amy Washam, former NEBA co-chair Adam Jelenic, Athena Graham of the North Kansas City School District and technical support Christy Collins.
The next NEBA Career Series event will be in January with arts, audio/video technology, communications and information technology. Additional information and registration is available on the Events Page of the NEBA website, https://sites.google.com/view/nebaworkskc/events.
Career Speaker Series programs and other events are also available to view on the NEBA YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/NEBAWorksKC.