LEBANON — Weston Voepel is only 9 years old, but he already knows what he wants to be when he grows up: a heavy equipment operator.
Wearing an orange safety vest and white hardhat, young Weston put a tracked dump truck through its paces Friday morning, drawing attention of high school students from Lebanon, Scio, Sweet Home and Central Linn during the third annual Classroom to Career Expo, held at the Santiam Travel Station.
“He’s been operating equipment since he was 5,” said his father, Shaughn Voepel, a project manager for the Rick Franklin Corporation in Lebanon.
“I really like running an excavator,” Weston said after hopping out of the cab and letting some older kids get a feel for the equipment. “I really like digging holes.”
Kris Latimer, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Greater Santiam in Lebanon, said 300 freshmen were waiting to get started when the event began at 8:30 a.m.
“We’ll have more than 1,000 kids here today,” she said. “Our goal is to show students there are many good job opportunities in the area that don’t require a college degree. And, many of these companies will pay for their education once they are hired.”
Lebanon firefighter Nick Unruh said he'd always wanted to be a firefighter, following in his father Brad's footsteps.
“He was a volunteer firefighter in Scio and we always had a scanner in our house,” Nick said. “I remember him rushing off to fires. And when I was in the third grade, a Lifeflight helicopter landed at our school, and I was hooked.”
He and his fellow firefighters were “planting the seed” among the students.
“We’re telling them about our volunteer and student intern programs,” Nick said. “We’re also giving them tours of an ambulance and engine to give them an idea of what we do.”
Unruh said being a firefighter is his “dream job because I like helping people. I like everything about this job.”
Kathryn Molina, 17, a senior at Lebanon High School, was interested and listening intently. She's expecting a baby in January and considering a firefighting career.
“I’m here looking for a career,” she said. “I need a good job to support myself and my baby.”
Molina said she's already gained some wildland firefighting experience through the Job Corps.
Joe Jeffress, an electrician at Entek International in Lebanon, showed Lebanon High students Non Triratanachat, Daniel Cogolludo and Thomas Branson, equipment used at the plant.
Branson said he liked to work with his hands, but Triratanachat said he was more computer-inclined. But all three students said they found the Entek booth interesting.
Entek’s Carri Moffatt said the company, which makes battery separator materials and extruding machines, offers family-wage jobs from on-line production that requires a high school diploma up to research specialists with doctoral degrees.
“We are reaching out to let these young people know we have a wide variety of jobs,” she said. “We are looking for employees with drive, who like to think outside the box and who work well with others.”
Moffatt added that they should also be flexible.
“We are opening a new plant in Indonesia and we are sending our folks there to train them on new equipment,” she said, adding that reliability and showing up on time every day are also important traits at a company that runs 24/7.
“You have to show up on time to relieve the other guy who has put in a 12-hour day,” she said. “Being a half-hour late isn’t good.”
Moffatt said Entek, which has about 450 local employees, is always growing.
“These are all family-wage jobs with full benefits,” she said.
With more than 30 booths, students had their pick of opportunities.
Army, Marine and Air Force representatives were on hand, as well as RAM Trucking, Cascade Timber Consulting, Samaritan Health Services and others, telling students about everything from jobs in health care to logging and reforestation.