Communication, Continued Learning Seen as Keys for Clay County Careers
NEBA Hospitality Session
NEBA Co-Chair Amy Washam (top left) hosted three sessions for the March 22 Career Series. One of the panels focused on hospitality and included Worlds of Fun Sales Director Cori Day (top right) and (bottom, from left) Gladstone Park and Recreation Department Director Justin Markey and Tim Fajkus, vice president of marketing and operations for Harrah’s North Kansas City.

Northland students learned some often-overlooked details about three major career fields during the March 22 Career Series held by the Northland Education and Business Alliance. 

A monthly program featuring insights into area job opportunities, the March Career Series examined marketing, hospitality and tourism in Clay County. Professionals in each area told area students about their work and what it takes to enter and succeed in each field. One of the most important factors for success may be an entrepreneurial outlook.

“You have to thrive on variety and enjoy chaos,” quipped Sara Freetly, a partner at Candid Marketing. “And communication is critical. We’re always communicating in one way or the other. You have to be able to communicate.”

Others stressed that linear career tracks are especially rare in these fields. Kilee Nickels, owner of Nickel and Suede jewelry, said her success did not follow a straight line, starting with a small children’s product and the online marketplace, Etsy. “It was trial by fire, learning on the job,” she said. “But I learned how to sell on the internet. I learned what works and what doesn’t.”

Lifelong Learning

Both Freetly and Nickels said the field involves nearly constant learning. While degrees are important, current certification and even informal studies are often critical. But while it sounds like a challenge, it also provides opportunities for people who are motivated to learn on their own. 

“Marketing is very data driven today,” Nickels said, citing one example. “Being able to understand what has happened and translate that into action is important. Everyone has degrees here, but they’re always taking online courses.”

The field is also diverse, with copywriters, IT professionals and newer skills like “influencer manager.” All share the need to work well with people and communicate.

Several speakers also stressed that students shouldn’t worry too much about knowing exactly what they want to do. “You don’t have to have your career all figured out,” said Aaron Smullin, public information director for the Platte County Health Department. “I thought I did, but I didn’t.”

Learning on the job, including through internships, is important. “A lot of it’s getting into the field and learning,” Smullin added. “You start to see what works and what doesn’t. I tell people that if you’re in this field and you think you’re done learning, you need to get into something else.”

Constant Variety

Although there are seasonal fluctuations, the hospitality industry also brings daily change. “I’m not sure I have a normal day,” noted Tim Fajkus, vice president of marketing and operations at Harrah’s North Kansas City. “There’s just constant variety, and that’s one of the things I love about my job.”

Cori Day, Worlds of Fun sales director, added that a critical requirement is the ability to deal well with people. “You have to be kind,” she said. You must be able to give people the benefit of a doubt. If you listen hard enough, you can usually find a solution.”

That’s also why formal education is helpful but often not critical. “I can teach you the amusement park business, but the emotional intelligence to deal with all of the different people is what you need most,” Day said.

Justin Markey, director of parks and recreation for the city of Gladstone, saw a similar scenario. “When I’m interviewing job candidates, I’m interviewing for personality more than the skill set,” he said. “That’s my number one thing anymore.”

People Skills

The hospitality professionals noted that education and certifications are varied in their field, too. Exceptions include areas like aquatics or maintenance where safety or technical certifications are required. Still, people skills are a priority in management, as well as in dealing with the public.

“If you’re managing people, that’s going to be the biggest challenge,” explained Day at Worlds of Fun. “You’re dealing with professionals who are just as smart as you are, and if you’re hiring the right people, they may be smarter than you!”

Amy Washam, NEBA co-chair, led each session. Washam, director of Northwest Missouri State University-Kansas City, forwarded questions from online students and educators while also adding directly to the discussions.

Held during the 2021-22 school year via Zoom videoconference, Career Speaker Series programs and other events are available to view on the NEBA YouTube channel at this link.

For more information on NEBA itself, visit www.nebaworkskc.org.

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