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MEDP Spark - A Plethora of Paths to a Successful Career

Apr 11, 2019

MEDP Spark - Volume 4, Issue 4 ~ April 2019

Jared Roberts works on a custom project at Solid Form
Jared Roberts works on a custom project at Solid Form

In McMinnville, we are both proud and fortunate to have a strong base of manufacturing and traded sector businesses to grow and maintain a healthy economy. These are businesses creating innovative products, providing desperately needed services, and contributing to the betterment of people. Inside these businesses are employees. Employees who are constructing world-class products and putting in their hours and hard work and contributing to our community in many untold ways. What may be more untold though, is the accomplishments of these employees and the many paths that lead people to succeed in their careers.

We at the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership (MEDP) know that we are fortunate to have the school district that we do in our community. According to a recent article from the News Register, in 2017-2018 McMinnville High School had a 90.6% graduation rate which is 12 points higher than the state average. We’re proud of the students coming out of Yamhill County schools each year and are excited to see new additions to Career Technical programs and pathways, we’re also happy to see school embracing an important reality, that not every student is going to go on to a four-year college.

Here in McMinnville, we can point to countless examples of employees with a high-quality life working in engaging, important roles who have not followed what is now considered the “traditional career path” of attending a four-year college upon completion of high school. Opportunities exist for people wanting a different path to success. What truly makes people successful is a drive to do better, a love for what they do, and the willingness to work hard no matter what.

We had the opportunity to sit down with three employees who exemplify these traits working at companies in McMinnville. Each took a slightly different path to where they are now, and all of them see goals and success down the road.

Ryan Sticka - Water Treatment Operator - McMinnville Water & Light

Ryan Sticka stands at McMinnville’s Water Treatment Plant
Ryan Sticka stands at McMinnville’s Water Treatment Plant

Graduating from Yamhill-Carlton High School in 2002, Ryan Sticka knew he needed a job that allowed him to work outside. That summer he started work as a seasonal laborer for the City of Carlton working at their treatment plant. Ryan loved the feeling of working in a remote location, surrounded by trees and a few good people. After that summer Ryan was recruited to play basketball in Eugene and after a term, he realized this was not the path he wanted. Returning to his family farm, Ryan continued working while keeping his eye open for positions in the utility field. This led him to a two-year degree in water technology and in 2009, he started working part-time for McMinnville Water & Light while completing his degree. Upon graduation, he was hired on full-time as a Water Treatment Operator.

Getting a degree in water technology and water treatment means covering all phases of water sources, water treatment, water distribution, wastewater collection, wastewater treatment, and more. An average day for Ryan includes pulling samples of water from four sources including the reservoir lake, basin, and two samples from town. From there they process the samples and check all of the components. Along with this, there are pumps to maintain, work orders to fill and maintenance to be done as well as monitoring the reservoirs to ensure our drinking water is kept safe. Starting out, Ryan was certified as a Level 2 Water Treatment Operator, since then he has been tested and received a Level 3 Certification. He takes the test next month to qualify for Level 4 Certification. The nature of Ryan’s job also gives him confidence about job security, “A town needs water. There’s never not going to be work in this field.”

Ryan has worked hard to be in the place he is today, and he notes that this is what any young person joining the workforce really needs, “A lot of how I got my job was who I knew instead of what I knew. But it’s not only that. It’s having good work ethic and not letting people down. Follow-through goes a long way.” He recommends anyone joining the workforce aims to lead by example and stay busy. He contends that often things don’t happen right away, but if you want something, stick with it. People notice someone who works hard and cares - and Ryan, sitting in front of me, seems to be the perfect example of that sentiment.

Jared Roberts - Fabricator - Solid Form Fabrication

Jared Roberts works on a project at Solid Form - Photo from Solid Form’s Facebook
Jared Roberts works on a project at Solid Form - Photo from Solid Form’s Facebook

Jared Roberts tells me he was lucky that his favorite teacher at Newberg High School happened to be in his welding class, but it seems he was destined to take to welding and fabrication all along. In high school, Jared says he had a hard time sitting down all day. Any free period or extra curricular he could take he would fill with shop class saying that the movement and working with his hands helped him concentrate on everything else. Upon graduating from high school, he knew four-years of sitting in a classroom wasn’t where his passion lied. Jared chose to attend the Welding Technology program at Portland Community College (PCC) and earned his Associate of Applied Science in Welding Technology.

What Jared really loves about welding is the artistic and creative component that can be added to a fabrication project. After graduating from PCC he began working in the McMinnville Industrial District, every day driving by Solid Form’s building and peaking his interest. He eventually reached out and spoke to a friend who had worked for the company and learned of Solid Form’s dedication to custom design work, creative problem solving, and creating something special for each client. Jared, who spent his free time in high school building custom stage designs and welding artistic gazebos, seemed to be a perfect fit.

Jared’s advice to high school students is to look around your own community for opportunity, “Go talk to a local shop. Everyone is looking for people who are interested.” He also asserts the importance of work ethic, “This work is not easy, so learning a good work ethic early is important.” Luckily for Jared, the work is made better by passion, “I love what I do. Everyday is something different. The people who work here are great. It’s like a family. We all help each other on projects and both Deven and Keath are big on both learning more and doing more.”

Richard Skeffington - Lineman - McMinnville Water & Light

Richard Skeffington works to connect and underground line for a project in McMinnville
Richard Skeffington works to connect and underground line for a project in McMinnville

Everyone surrounding Richard Skeffington, an Apprentice Lineman at McMinnville Water & Light (MW&L), confirms one things about him, Richard is a hard worker and has a willingness to dedicate himself to the process. After graduating from McMinnville High School in 2008, Richard immediately applied for and received a seasonal laborer job at MW&L. After the summer he continued working with MW&L for a while and applied to every full-time job they had available. He was eventually hired on as a Meter Reader and Service Worker. When asked why he had an interest in MW&L he said since his first day, he’s always, “shown up and felt appreciated. Hard work is appreciated and noticed here.”

Richard’s hard work led to him becoming a Groundsman, the first step to becoming an Electric Lineman. Commonly, a groundsman needs to complete 1,000 hours of work before moving on in their journey to become a lineman. Currently, Richard is in an apprenticeship program to become a lineman. He’s in his first year of the program, one that requires he takes classes on the weekend, attend a camp on climbing poles, and works with a journeyman for three years. For Richard, the thing he most enjoys is, “working with the crews.” He also likes the variety of the work and being able to see the fruit of his labor - something that he can point to and recognize the hard work that went into it.

The most important thing, Richard insists, “If you don’t get the job you want, keep working and you will be noticed.”

These three interviews provided examples to us of something we’ve known for a while, there are many paths to a successful career. Deven Paolo, Co-Owner of Solid Form, in his TEDx Talk on bridging the gap to right-fit career paths, discusses the idea stating,

“There’s this cookie cutter map to college and the best paying jobs and we’re told just stay on this path and everything will be okay. But for most of us, that map doesn’t work and we struggle with college and careers. And we struggle because most often what’s missing from this career advice is the most important question of all, and that question is, What’s the best career path for you?”

Deven continues,

“The majority of Americans struggle with college and career paths. Education has done a great job of getting kids through high school and signed up for college. But almost 50% of those who sign up for college drop out. About one in three adults do make it through and earn a degree but 40% of them find that their degree doesn’t translate into a career and end up underemployed. So what this is telling us is that college is only working for about 20% of the American population.”

Deven relates this to a shifting perspective,

“The mindset has been to devalue skilled trades and shift resources away from vocational education… It’s estimated that one-third of the skilled trades workforce will retire in five years, and nowhere near that many entering it. These are the people who build your homes, and roads, and critical infrastructure.”

This could have large implications, one that needs a solution. Deven continues,

“It’s important enough for our economy and happiness that it’s time to remap career pathways. It’s time to expose another network of paths that works for the majority and makes finding our way easier… These solutions take students, parents, educators, and industry leaders to all work together. It requires shifting our perspective on careers and removing the stigma on skilled-trades. It’s not an argument for or against college, it’s an argument that finding our right fit path creates the environment for people to thrive.” (Watch Deven’s full TEDx Talk here)

We at MEDP agree with Deven’s message. We have created our Career Bound Pathways program to help fill this gap. The program works to connect high school graduates who are not currently planning to attend a four-year college with local companies who have full-time, paid, summer positions that could lead to future opportunities. Our pilot year includes eight local companies with nine available positions for local graduates.

It’s time to change what we think of as the “best career path.” We see different examples of successful career paths everyday working with local manufacturers at every level in a variety of companies. The truth is that the best career for an individual is one that allows them to be happy, engaged, and fulfilled. Our local companies are committed to the growth and well-being of employees and we believe the the successful path for McMinnville’s future will be to acknowledge and embrace these achievements with open arms.

Curious what it’s like to do business in McMinnville? Call us today at 503.474.6814


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MEDP's monthly newsletter, The MEDP Spark, received a Silver Award from the International Economic Development Council in 2017.

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