Career panels give Charles City students a glimpse of their possible future

By James Grob,

Doug Kamm, owner of Kamm Excavating in Charles City, had some unusual career advice for high school students.

“Take care of your driver’s license,” he said. “Hang on to your driving privileges — they’re more important than you realize.”

Kamm was part of a three-person career panel that met with students recently at Charles City High School. The panels started in February and have taken place over the noon hour every Thursday and Friday. They are set to continue through early April.

“We’ve been really trying to partner with our schools and get with the youth and talk to them about different career pathways,” said Kristle Percy, business marketing specialist with IowaWorks. “We’re trying to expose the kids to what opportunities they have.”

IowaWorks approached the school district with the idea for the panels last fall, started contacting employers in the area, and the employers responded.

“So many employers wanted to get involved with the kids and help them make the best career choices that they can for after high school,” Percy said.

The panels are not only informational for the students, they also help the school district stay connected with the community.

“I think partnering with the community is really important. There’s so much to offer in the community,” said Brooke Hottle, a counselor with CCSD. “Building that bridge and building those relationships are key for the school district.”

The panel on Feb. 28 centered on careers in architecture and construction. Kamm was joined by Brian Carrott of Dean Snyder Construction in Clear Lake and Reed Westman of Atura Architecture of Clear Lake.

Carrott wondered how many of the 30-plus CCHS students who were gathered planned on remaining in the area after they finish high school. Only a handful of students raised their hands. Carrott encouraged the students to consider it.

“When you’re young, it sounds great to leave and go live in the big city, because it’s fun and exciting and there’s more to do,” Percy said. “Keeping kids here in north Iowa and showing the benefits of staying in north Iowa is something that may not be spoken to the students. There are a lot of good-paying jobs around here.”

Daniel Laube, a CCHS sophomore, said that he wanted to see the world outside of Charles City, but he would consider returning.

“I might want to explore other parts of the nation, but after that, I might want to come back,” he said.

A previous career panel presentation was about business management and administration, and featured representatives from Hy-Vee, the Rustic Corner and Farm Bureau Insurance. A finance panel included local loan officers, accountants and financial planners.

An education and training panel included teachers, professors, coaches and instructional assistants. A government and public administration panel included military service members, elected officials and city employees.

A panel about the hospitality and tourism industry included a baker, a chef, a restaurant owner and a member of the Charles City Chamber of Commerce.

Upcoming career panels will regard human services, information technology and health sciences.

“We get to make the most of the time we have with the kids — they get to ask a lot of questions, they get to hear about different careers,” Percy said. “It’s really nice for the students to be able to hear from an employer, to not only find out what they’re looking for, but to see what their day looks like.”

Percy said that in Iowa, with the low unemployment rate, it’s important to work at retaining people, as well as recruiting. She hopes the career panels are a step in that direction.

“We have a lot to offer in Charles City. It’s just a matter of reaching out and networking and getting to know people,” Percy said.

Some of the students said the panels were opening their eyes as to what’s available after high school.

“I think they are helpful,” said CCHS sophomore Nick Ritzman. “You learn a lot about different careers you can go into.”

Laube agreed. “It’s especially helpful for students who might be confused about what they’ll do when they graduate,” he said.

Attendance at the panels so far has ranged from about a dozen students to more than 30. Some teachers at CCHS are requiring students to attend at least two panels of their choice.

“We know in Iowa we have a skills gap coming,” Percy said. “It’s here already, and it’s only going to get worse unless we be proactive and really work together with the community, the employer and the schools. We can all do a lot if we work together.”