ST. ANSGAR | A career expo held on Thursday, Oct. 26, at St. Ansgar High School, drew high school and middle school students from across Mitchell County.

With more than 2,100 job openings in North Iowa, businesses have been expressing difficulty finding workers, since the area boasts such a low unemployment rate. In partnership with the county economic development office, high schools, colleges and local and regional businesses, the intent of the expo was to provide students with an idea of what their rural communities have to offer.

Exposing students to the growing businesses in North Iowa, as well as the training and skills that are available, is part of a recent pattern of education and encouragement to help students stay local after they graduate.

Representatives from local businesses and enterprises, along with the Hawkeye Community College construction simulator in the parking lot, the event exposed students to what career opportunities are available in Mitchell County.

While NIACC, Riverland, and Hawkeye Community College were represented, there were also representatives from Valent BioSciences, a welding simulator, breakout sessions in health care, sciences, technologies, engineering, mechanics, entrepreneurships and registered apprenticeships.

“My daughter doesn’t know what she wants to do,” said Kim Hemann, whose daughter is a junior. “This expo will give her some idea of what’s out there as well as if a two-year college will be easier than a four-year, financially.”

Parents and students were able to attend breakout sessions, visit booths to speak representatives about the requirements for a career as well as the opportunities available in each field.

“I’m trying to see what they have for nursing,” said senior Katie Squier, who along with her friend, Brianna Hildebrand, spent time talking to law enforcement representatives as well as those who were in the medical profession.

“They had a medical careers thing we sat in on,” Hildebrand said. “We learned a lot about the careers available in that field and tips on how we can pursue a career as well as what we would need to do in order to accomplish that. I found it helpful, especially for the younger kids, to see what’s out there.”

The welding simulator was a big draw. Students were given the opportunity to try their hand at welding for a score, as well as pick up tips from the simulator's director, who advised one young man to push when welding instead of dragging the tip across the metal. Added incentives were the opportunity to win a pair of welding gloves if a student scored over the 85th percentile.

“It was a really good opportunity to see what’s in Mitchell County and the surrounding area,” said senior Alyssa Powers. “I think it’s awesome that they have the break-out sessions for more career information as well as the simulators so we can try things out and see if they would actually interest us. I’m interested in the medical field and the medical assistants program and the breakout session helped a lot.”

Another big draw was the construction simulator, where students could try their hand at various heavy machinery to see how they might perform on the job. The simulator kept track of how much progress the students made loading dirt piles into the backs of trucks while also tracking any mishaps they might have, in the form of damages to the truck. While some students were rather proficient with the simulation, others racked up quite a bill before their simulation time was through.

“It was really fun,” JT Soltero said. “I think it helps students figure out how to use things like these and if using this type of machinery would interest us.”

“It was cool, very cool,” said Westley Waite, of the construction simulator. “I found it very interesting to have someone take a simulation of a job they might do before they do it, that way they can see if they can do it correctly.”