Rob Dixon, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, provided a recorded introduction to each segment of the Feb. 3 Industry Professionals Roundtable sponsored by the Northland Education and Business Alliance.
Information for students, educators, parents and business leaders was available Tuesday, Feb. 3 during an Industry Professionals Roundtable sponsored by the Northland Education and Business Alliance.
Area leaders in six major industries discussed current challenges, advantages and how to enter their fields during four hours of dialogue and questions. Geared especially for Northland high school students interested in these accessible fields, the wide-ranging discussions also drew educators and entrepreneurs.
Construction, transportation and finance, healthcare, women in skilled trades, information technology and manufacturing were featured, with each field represented by several Northland leaders. Rob Dixon, director of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, provided a recorded introduction to each segment.
The key to the event’s success involved over 30 industry professionals and half a dozen NEBA volunteers who led the informative discussions. The topics included current trends, long-term prospects and ways for students to become involved in each industry.
Soft Skills Matter
Several surprises included key skills needed for each area. Even in fields like information technology or healthcare, the veterans stressed “soft skills” like showing up for work on time or knowing how to communicate with different types of people.
“Technical skills are important, but so are soft skills,” noted Bob Clemens of LMV Automotive, during the manufacturing and transportation session. “Dealing with people and other skills like that are what we often struggle with in our applicants.”
Morgan Jenkins, Clifford Power, emphasized how critical soft skills can be. “Safety and responsibility are two of our priorities here,” she said, noting massive equipment and delicate tools that require extreme care. “Another thing is just to be engaged. That’s really huge.”
Others shared that the ability to learn is often more important than current knowledge. Enthusiasm and even passion are also important.
“Not once have I said someone needs a specific skill,” said Saadia Mahmood of NBH Bank during the IT session. “If you’re a critical thinker, we can train you.”
Commitment More Than Know-How
During the same session, Joshila Piya agreed. “There are tons of things you can do to be certified,” she explained. “But we need that passion.”
Riki Donner of Aviation Technical Services added other traits needed by prospective employees. “Character is just as important as knowledge,” she said. “Attendance, teamwork and humility are things we’re also looking for.”
Several noted that in the business world, dealing with a wide variety of people is required. Foreign language skills are often a major advantage.
Another reason technical know-how may rank lower than expected is that these fields change so dramatically that some knowledge is guaranteed to become obsolete in a relatively short time. Several mentioned the use of Zoom videoconferencing, which was used for the virtual roundtable, as a good example. Even before the pandemic, technologies changed so fast that employers often value troubleshooting and learning skills more than a specific certification.
Tony Phillips of Liberty Hospital said even the role of hospital administrators has changed in recent years. “Administrators were more operational, but now it’s more leadership, guiding teams and really looking into the future at where healthcare is going is extremely important. Strong leadership is a necessity.”
Curt Laven, Liberty Public Schools, said getting as much early experience as possible is a good way to accomplish several things. “Internships are invaluable,” he said. “You can learn what you like and don’t like. ‘Is this something that’s right for me? Is this something that will be a good fit?’ Internships can help with those types of things.”
A list of speakers by session included:
Healthcare: Tony Phillips, Liberty Hospital; Kamara Meany, Truman Medical Center; Wendy Newburgh, Brenton House; and Daran Alpough, North Kansas City Hospital.
Construction: Nakisha Bausby, JE Dunn Construction; Mike Berry, Fireplace & Bar-B-Q Center; David Elliott, Construction & Planning Services; Ryan Hassett, Pella Products of KC, Inc.; Greg Kudrna, Henges Insulation & Fireplaces; and Bethany Riley, Turner Construction;
Information Technology: Trey Katzer, Liberty Public Schools; Curt Laven, Liberty Public Schools; Saadia Mahmoodm NBH Bank; and Joshila Piya, Cerner Corporation.
Women in Skilled Trades: Angie Beerup, KC Home Builders Association; Taryn Johnson, JE Dunn; Kari Lasley, Northland Career Center; Lexa Palomarex, Turner Construction; Je-Anne Rueckert, Metropolitan Community College; and Hope Williams, TransCore.
Manufacturing and Transportation: Bob Clemens, LMV Automotive; Riki Donner, Aviation Technical Services; Morgan Jenkins, Clifford Power; Erin Wormsley, General Mills; and Wally Worth, PAS Technologies.
Finance: Chandra Carrier, Aflac; Ryan George, Northwestern Mutual; Rich Godbold, Central Bank of the Midwest; Ken Honeck, First Missouri Bank; and Eric Lopata, BKD, LLP.
Both Northland economic development councils were involved, with executive director David Slater and Julie Lewis of Clay County, and Business & Member Outreach Manager Abbey Brightwell-Gray, Platte County. NEBA volunteers included co-chairs Brian Noller and Adam Jelenic, along with Amy Washam from Northwest Missouri State University and Brett Kisker of the Northland Center for Advanced Professional Studies.
The next NEBA monthly meeting is March 2 and will feature a visit by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who has made workforce development a cornerstone for his new term. The meeting will be held at the newly opened KC Tech Academy in Pleasant Valley. Both NEBA and the Academy are involved in the EDC’s work to improve workforce development in order to increase job opportunities and expand business growth.