The rumblings of the Bakken oil fields can be felt as far away as School District 2’s Career Center.
“We have more interest in our automotive program, in our welding program,” said Stan Barr, principal of the Career Center.
The Career Center, SD2’s specialty school that offers career training and core education classes, serves about 800 full- and part-time students from Billings’ three high schools.
And each year, the school stages a career fair as a way to introduce its students to the jobs and colleges available after high school. This year, there were plenty of booths devoted to apprenticeships for electricians and welders and other similar fields.
“Diesel mechanics are in demand,” Barr said.
All of it, he said, is related to the oil boom in Eastern Montana and western North Dakota.
But it wasn’t just oil industry jobs on display Thursday. The Army, Air Force, Navy and National Guard each had representatives there.
Junior and community colleges were also well represented, with booths from schools including Dawson Community College, Casper College, Sheridan College and Dakota College.
In all, the Career Center hosted 65 people from 52 organizations. That’s a feat, considering the current economy, said Vivian Petersson, who organizes the career fair each year.
“It was harder to recruit the recruiters this year,” she said.
Just like everyone else, colleges and companies are cutting back and not spending as much on recruitment as they used to, she said. So she’s grateful the groups were willing to make the commitment to come out Thursday.
For the students, it was a good way to see what awaits them after graduation.
“It’s pretty helpful,” said Rick Whitaker, a junior from Senior High.
Whitaker is interested in chasing a career in computer networking, specifically because he knows that despite a weak economy, demand for computer science jobs is only going to grow.
Classmate Courtney Forstner is interested in culinary arts, but she’s not sure where she’s going to study or what she’s going to do after graduation.
“I’m trying to find (a job) now and it’s pretty hard,” she said.
Petersson said the Career Center works hard to make sure students are keyed into what they like and what they’re good at.
“We don’t talk about college degrees as much as we talk about skills,” she said.
If teachers can help students identify and hone their skills, then they can point them to the best post-high school programs that will help them get a good job — be it a two-year vocational school, a trade program or a four-year university.
“We’re just kind of a mechanism or a guide to help these kids get to an end that’s successful,” Barr said.
It’s exactly why Rob Maher makes sure he’s at the fair each year. Maher is part of the engineering school at Montana State University in Bozeman and consistently recruits Career Center students to his program.
“They’ve got a pretty extensive offering here,” he said.
The Career Center uses the nationally accredited Project Lead the Way, a national engineering-focused program for high school juniors and seniors, something Maher likes.
Many, when they graduate from high school, have already picked up some college engineering credits through the program.
“The students here are all really, really, prepared,” Maher said.