November 29, 2022
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Northern Valley Career Expo turns 10, continues to inform high schoolers on career choices – Grand Forks Herald

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GRAND FORKS – The Northern Valley Career Expo celebrated its 10th anniversary on Wednesday, demonstrating the potential employment pathways present in the region.

The event, which hosts approximately 1,800 high school sophomores from northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, and 70 exhibitors, was conceived following a 2010 study by local economic development agencies examining workforce participation in the Red River valley.

Eric Ripley, director of career technical education for Grand Forks Public Schools, has been with the expo since its founding. He said the initial study’s results were telling.

“We looked at the number of 25-34 year-olds in the region’s labor market, and found we were below the national average,” said Ripley. “I would attribute this shortage to a lack of career awareness among our youth at the time.”

Following the 2010 study, a task force comprising the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, along with Grand Forks Public Schools, was created in order to help the shortage of young professionals. After two years of planning, the first career expo was held in 2012.

Paul Gorte, director of economic development for the city of East Grand Forks, says the event is vital to showing attendees the wide range of career opportunities in the region.

“It’s an opportunity to show 10th graders the wealth of opportunities present. Take RJ Zavoral for instance,” said Gorte, referring to the East Grand Forks based earthmoving contractor. “They need employees with a range of skills, like construction workers, accountants, designers and engineers.”

Gorte also stressed that job opportunities abound in the region for all levels of education, ranging from apprenticeships to medical degrees.

“If these students choose a career that requires a college degree, the expo provides them with information on how to pursue it,” said Gorte. “However, around 70% of jobs don’t require a four-year degree. There are a lot of trades offering apprenticeships, such as welding and carpentry, which allow young adults to enter the working world without saddling debt.”

According to Gorte, a prerequisite for employers exhibiting at the expo is offering employment within the 14-county area from which students attend.

“We want to keep our students home,” said Gorte. “We want them to be able to see a future here before they make the decision to move somewhere like the Twin Cities, Denver or New York.”

The expo is divided into 50% practical and 50% educational sessions called “breakout periods,” where experts lecture students about what their career field entails.

Ripley said each student’s schedule is carefully tailored to ensure an optimal learning experience.

“Students list their top four choices for the breakout periods before attending the expo,” said Ripley. “We try our best to get them into their first two choices, that way they can get a grasp of what it means to work in a career that interests them.”

The exhibition floor was a bustling mix of students, employers and educational faculty on Wednesday. Exhibitors ranging from construction trades, health care professions, agriculture and public safety, offered hands-on simulations demonstrating the day-to-day aspects of their careers.

x-ray tech.jpeg

Samantha Omdahl (left), and Marsha Walsh (right), exhibit Sanford Health’s x-ray and ultrasound tech careers.

Joe Banish, Grand Forks Herald

Other than the immediate career awareness benefits that the expo confers upon the region’s students, Becca Cruger, director of workforce development at the Grand Forks EDC, believes the event is contributing to a growing retention rate of younger workers.

“Some students have a perception of what life and employment opportunities in the region are like before attending the expo,” said Cruger. “We send out a survey to all attendees post-expo, and we are very happy with the results. Around 85% say they would consider pursuing a career locally. We can see tangible evidence of this positive experience, as the population of 25-34 year-olds living and working in the Grand Forks MSA has increased by 18%.”





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