Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – A cross-section of local industry leaders and employers gathered at Eureka’s Ingomar Club last week to unveil a new campaign which, if effective, will both ensure a new generation of achievers and build college attendance in the region.
Dubbed Get Ready Humboldt – with a GetReadyHumboldt.com website to match – the new push began as a research project into the cultural barriers facing families who’ve never enrolled a member in college. A parent advocate is key to that process, as is encouragement from prominent members of the business community who’ve employed college-educated students.
Also enlisted in the effort are student advocates from Humboldt State and College of the Redwoods. The team will be attending local events together, evangelizing the value of college education.
HSU President Lisa Rossbacher said the effort is about three things: collaboration, education and the future. That’s important to the region and its economy, and to the young people for whom opportunity awaits.
One of those was Matt Welton, a self-described L.A. “punk rock kid” and Porter Street Barbecue employee who started school in his 20s. From Napa Valley College, he went on to Humboldt State as a Forestry and Business student.
Today, Welton is a poster child for bootstrapping, being employed as the director of talent acquisition for shoemaker Adidas in Germany.
Welton said companies are hungry for young people who demonstrate passion and drive, who possess and can jump nimbly between skills, problem solve, adapt and grow as rapidly as the ever-changing requirements of business demand.
“Leadership and teamwork are becoming increasingly important in the work world and in hiring decisions,” Welton said. Assessing talent includes education and work experience, including intangibles that point to confidence, creativity and collaboration.
“It’s about people that have the agility in their mindsets to shift from one skill to the next, leave skills behind that are no longer useful for them and learn a new one, all within a matter of five months, not five years,” he said. That’s key to a “growth mindset” that looks for perpetual learning and expansion of skills in a fast-moving business environment.
The business world, Welton said, is marked by “VUCA” – referring to today’s world being volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.”
“That is the reality of companies,” he said, and it’s why they look for resilient and inventive employees – the kind who are empowered by a college education.
Welton said that by 2025, 75 percent of the workforce will be composed of millenials.
“Scary,” said one attendee. But it needn’t be – millenials want growth, opportunity and meaningful work – goals that can well mesh with the needs of today’s employers.
“We as companies and employers have an obligation and a reality in front of us in that we need to be very deliberate about our hiring practices, about our development strategies once we’ve hired them into the organization – how do we help them grow and learn?”
Educators are also obliged, he said, to make their curriculum relevant and expedite useful work experience.
Chris Gaines, a professor of business at CR, was pleased to note that Welton had spent time in a community college.
Speakers on a panel of prominent business leaders stressed the importance of a college education, and the jobs waiting for those who gain a degree.
Neal Ewald, senior vice president at Green Diamond Resource Company, said his company hires a dozen HSU graduates every year, considering it something of a training academy. He said it’s important for students to understand the opportunities available for living wage careers in Humboldt County.
Jennifer Budwig, senior vice president with Redwood Capital Bank, said many varied opportunities exist for grads throughout the different levels of her company.
“There are all kinds of different areas within the bank that, when we have somebody with a college education and has that additional skill set, then that is certainly going to provide a much better opportunity.”
A college degree, she said helps an applicant’s resumé “rise to the top of the stack.”
Lane Devries, CEO of Sun Valley Floral Group, said “there are a lot of places where we need people that have a college education.”
Even apart from the specifics of their academic achievements, just getting through college with something to show for it indicates an ability to set and fulfill ambitious goals.
Rob Holmlund, director of development services for the City of Eureka, said that in comparing resumés, he looks for those who know how to complete their graduation requirements. “Not even looking at their majors, I know that this person knows how to finish something, and this person knows how to start something,” he said. “Just finishing is something on the resumé that you just can’t beat.”
Even liberal arts degrees, sometimes derided as useless, demonstrate to potential employers an ability to set goals and see things through.
Mary Keehn, founder of Cypress Grove Chevre, said that her director of operations is an HSU engineering graduate who now travels the world on the company’s behalf. Many more grads populate other areas of the company.
“Even milking goats now is computerized,” Keehn said. “I think that is the future. Jobs require much more [education] these days.”
Jason Ramos, tribal councilmember at the Blue Lake Rancheria, said that along with improved future prospects, college degrees translate into some measure of immediate success for their bearers. “You enter the organization at a higher pay rate and a higher level and you make more money. That’s the bottom line.”
Over the long term, earning a bachelors’ degree translates into better personal wealth, health care and longevity, and makes for better communities.
The takeaway message to college students, put in stark terms, was: apply yourself and give the effort now while you have the energy, earn an extra million dollars over the course of your career and have a quality life.
Get Ready resources
The Get Ready Humboldt website, GetReadyHumboldt.com, offers a number of resources for college preparation, including interviews with employers, career exploration and preparation, scholarships and financial aid information.
Events in progress and upcoming include ongoing Cash for College Workshops, the Oct. 26 Fall Preview, and guided tours of College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State.