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Career focused forum

by GABRIEL DAVIS
Staff Writer | October 24, 2023 2:48 PM

RITVILLE — Hundreds of high school students and dozens of vendors congregated Thursday in Ritzville High School’s gym for the 2023 Lind-Ritzville and Washtucna Career Showcase, hosted by the Adams County Development Council.

“I mean honestly, my expectations were kind of blown out of the water,” said ACDC Executive Director Kyle Niehenke. “Last year was the first time we did it after COVID – I think it was a three-year break. I wouldn't say last year was rusty, we had people there last year, but the turnout this year was better…The students were way more engaged this year.”

The showcase was an open fair of local businesses and organization booths with blocks of time throughout the school day scheduled for each grade level. Niehenke said ACDC partnered with businesses to provide incentive prizes for students engaging with vendors.

“All the vendors said it was a stellar event as far as actually (being) worth their morning for being there, which I appreciate,” Niehenke said.

Lind-Ritzville High School Principal Kevin Terris also commented on the students’ engagement.

“From what I heard from the vendors and all the local businesses, they were really pleased with the professionalism of our students,” he said. “Their behavior was really great, they were really engaged and asked lots of good questions.”

Kelly Haugh, manager of community relations with Big Bend Electric Cooperative, which had a booth at the event, spoke about the organization’s participation in an email to the Columbia Basin Herald.

“The career showcase is something that Big Bend Electric enjoys participating in every year,” she said. “It provides a great opportunity for students to be exposed to industries they might never have considered or even thought possible. It was so fun to see their faces light up as they learned about careers in the field of energy. Several expressed interest in becoming linemen and were happy to discuss the details with our two journeymen linemen that were present.”

Terris said he thinks the showcase is probably the best one Lind-Ritzville High School has held.

“We had a great amount of vendors that were local, regional and from the Spokane area,” Terris said. “We also had a record number of students attend from not just Lind-Ritzville but also from Washtucna, Sprague and Harrington.”

Niehenke said schools in Sprague and Harrington expressed interest in attending the event as their respective areas did not have a similar opportunity for the students, so Lind-Ritzville invited them to the showcase.

“For ACDC, everyone has worked for a solution, so this is this is not the cure-all but this is one way we can try to say ‘let's combat the workforce issues, get kids excited to stay here before they leave and then we're just struggling to recruit even harder,’” Niehenke said.

Terris elaborated on the school’s motivation for hosting the event.

“Our focus is on career and college readiness. The idea (is) that we're not trying to push all kids to get a four-year degree. There are a lot of different options for students when they graduate,” Terris said. “So this is just making sure that we're covering all of our bases with exposing kids to all those opportunities and how whatever avenue they choose it'll lead somewhere so they can kind of see that there's a purpose for going to school, and they can connect it to something that really interests them.”

Niehenke said 35 organizations participated in the event, 25 of which were local, private businesses in the Lind-Ritzville and Washtucna area.

Terris said the showcase exemplified the effort of the community and school in providing support to get kids ready for their first year out of high school.

“It just shows that local businesses and even regional and state businesses are seeing this as an opportunity to be visible and provide just enough information to where a student might get some interest early on in their high school years and get a plan in place,” Terris said.

ACDC tried to reach out to businesses outside of the Lind-Ritzville area that could fill gaps in careers and employment opportunities not offered in the area, Niehenke said. Nonetheless, ACDC also wanted to show that there are many local opportunities as well.

“This is for the students, to inspire kids to go to college or go to the trades,” Niehenke said. “But you are also talking to students that may want to come back to Ritzville but don't know what they want to come back to Ritzville and do, so inspire them (to see that) you can go be an accountant, an engineer, you can do a lot of the things that big cities offer back in our small town, and that was really the driving point behind this.”

Niehenke said he has already received interest from businesses that attended and that were not able to attend regarding next year’s event, which he said will likely be around the same time.

Gabriel Davis may be reached at gdavis@columbiabasinherald.com. Download the Columbia Basin Herald app on iOS and Android.

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COURTESY PHOTO/KYLE NIEHENKE

During the Lind-Ritzville and Washtucna Career Showcase Thursday, students speak with a representative of Legacy Telecommunications, whose Eastern Washington office is located in Ritzville.

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FILE PHOTO

Lind-Ritzville High School, pictured, provided the venue for the 2023 Lind-Ritzville and Washtucna Career Showcase Thursday, with about 3,000 students attending the event throughout the day according to Adams County Development Council Executive Director Kyle Niehenke.