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Osceola County Career Day offers on-site exposure of area businesses to S-O sophomore students

TC Transcontinental Production Manager Ray Gruis (right) shows Sibley-Ocheyedan sophomores a popcorn bag product the manufacturing company in Sibley produces and ships across the country. (Alyssa Sobotka / The Globe)

SIBLEY, Iowa — Sibley-Ocheyedan sophomore students learned last week that an array of quality careers aren’t far away.

In a unique twist on a traditional career fair, students had the opportunity to tour two of six Osceola County businesses that participated in a career day meant to expose youths to a variety of careers available in their rural hometowns. Participating businesses in Wednesday’s Osceola County Career Day included Cooperative Farmers Elevator in Ocheyedan, Iowa and the Osceola Community Hospital, Keith M. Merrick Co., C&B (John Deere), Cooperative Energy Company and TC Transcontinental, all in Sibley.

“We wanted to take students out in the community to see for themselves what's available for employment,” said Stephanie Neppl, Osceola County Economic Development Commission executive director. The Wednesday morning tours were organized in a collaborative effort between the OCEDC, Sibley-Ocheyedan School District, Sibley Park and Recreation Department, the Sibley Chamber of Commerce and Iowa State Extension Office.

Neppl said the purpose of the event was not only to be beneficial for students, but also for the participating businesses.

For Cooperative Energy, the career day was an opportunity to remain proactive amid what Marketing and Communications Specialist Beth VanderZee called a scary declining unemployment rate and expected 35 percent retirement loss of current employees within the next five years.

“We want to get to these students right away and make sure they are aware of the awesome opportunities they have for careers right here at home,” she said.

An effort to find future employees was also identified as a reason TC Transcontinental’s facility and production managers identified offering onsite tours of the paper bag manufacturing company.

“It’s tough to get people that want to work — and that’s everywhere,” said TC Transcontinental Production Manager Ray Gruis, who has been at the manufacturing plant since it was built in 1972. “We want to try to get some interest early.”

Kyle O’Toole, C&B store manager, said the career day was an important opportunity to inform the young leaders of opportunities the company may provide them, from internships, college sponsorship or a future career.

With a large variety of career opportunities under one employer, Osceola Community Hospital Chief Executive Officer Ben Davis said participating in the career day was an opportunity for the hospital to make an investment in the students while also addressing the health care facility’s foreseeable future needs.

“We know we’ll have people retire and we need to look to the future,” he said. “(The career day) was an opportunity to get in front of the students.”

The morning business tours was followed by a panel consisting of area professionals. Panelists included Davis; Tim Pace of TC Transcontinental; Brad Willemssen, city of Sibley; Sarah Ranschau, CFE; Travis Ten Napel, Northwestern Mutual; and Bill Pearson, HP Insurance.

The panel answered students’ presubmitted questions specific to their fields, including advantages, disadvantages and level of education. They also honestly answered what many students wanted to know: pay scale.  

Neppl said she hopes to garner feedback from the participating businesses and students to make the Osceola County Career Day an annual event.

“We try to retain our locally grown talent that we have,” she said, adding that she hopes the event opened the door for students to reach out to area employers for possible employment or job shadow opportunities.