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A snapshot into the US economy at one career fair in southeast Kansas

In a world of unlimited online meeting platforms, 143 employers and over 650 students attended a one-day in-person job fair at Pittsburg State University last week.

The job market in the US seems to be in a good position right now. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy added 517,000 jobs last month as unemployment hovers around 3.4% nationally.

How does that translate to career fairs across college campuses this Spring?

Fred Fletcher-Fierro of KRPS takes us to a recent fair at Pittsburg State University.

When the US economy shifts and changes, ripples are felt, usually months later in rural parts of the US, in communities like Pittsburg, Kansas. Some significant numbers aren't released by the government, like the number of companies, 143 that attended Pittsburg State's Spring Career last week.

The biggest number that have attended since the start of the pandemic.Heather Busch, Associate Director forEmployer Relations at Pittsburg State, says employers at this year's career fair are focused on a few disciplines.

PSU Spring 2023 Career Fair
Fred Fletcher-Fierro
PSU Spring 2023 Career Fair

“Construction Management is a big one. Engineering Technology, there are a lot of people looking for those two majors, and just general business. We have a lot of companies looking for general business.” 

While there were many well-known companies from the Four States, Heather says one company sent a representative from a couple states away.

“I think I heard that there was a Montana Company.”

You've likely never heard of Barnard Construction Company, headquartered in Bozeman, Montana. But you've probably relied on or driven across one of their dams or reservoirs, maybe even used their power transmission lines or the oil and gas pipelines they build.

Jeff Kaneil is with Barnard Construction. He describes the work they do this way.

“Big infrastructure projects, pretty much in North America, US, and Canada right now. We’re building the latest dam in North America, in Colorado, to provide sustainable water to the front range of Colorado. So a lot of different infrastructure projects to kind of keep America going.”

Barnard Constructionis buildingColorado's Chimney Hollow Dam, which broke ground in August of 2021 and is expected to cost 500 million dollars once it's completed in 2025. Jeff explains they are seeking employees who want unique work opportunities throughout the country.

Chimney Creek Hallow Reservoir Work Site
Northern Water
Chimney Creek Hallow Reservoir Work Site

“It’s challenging at times. Young people don’t want that, some do, and some have a little hesitation. In the end, it’s a rewarding kind of career path for young to be able to see the country, build on some cool projects, and have that opportunity.”

Maybe working on massive infrastructure projects in Colorado in the middle of winter isn't your thing, and you want to stay closer to home, perhaps work indoors, but still with water.

“I’m McKenzie Vanmeerhaehe; I was a Strategic Communications Major here.”

McKenzie, originally from Lewisburg, Kansas, graduated from Pittsburg State in the fall of 2020. Six months ago was hired by WaterOne, an independent public water utility serving Johnson County, Kansas. She takes us back to when she was a student and attended the same career fair she now works.

WaterOne Tower
WaterOne Tower

“It is so fun and nostalgic and kind of crazy to just be on the other end of it. It feels really rewarding to know that at one point, I was on the other side of the table, nervous."

"I knew how everyone felt, and now I can kind of provide that reassurance and that support. And to know that Pittsburg State is one of the best universities for preparing students for the outside world.”

Now that McKenzie; is, as she says, on the other side of the table, what advice would she give to students looking to land that first good job once they graduate?

"Connections. Make sure that you stay connected with your professors; they are your friends. They will be able to give you insight and help. You kind of support yourself once you leave the university. Make sure that while you’re at university, you are looking ahead, past-graduation."

Before we wrapped up our interview, McKenzie had this one last thing she wanted to tell me.

“Go Gorillas!”

Over 650 students attended Pittsburg States Spring career fair.

For 89 9 KRPS News, I'm Fred Fletcher-Fierro

Since 2017 Fred Fletcher-Fierro has driven up Highway 171 through thunderstorms, downpours, snow, and ice storms to host KRPS’s Morning Edition. He’s also a daily reporter for the station, covering city government, elections, public safety, arts, entertainment, culture, sports and more. Fred has also spearheaded and overseen a sea change in programming for KRPS from a legacy classical station to one that airs a balance of classical, news, jazz, and cultural programming that better reflects the diverse audience of the Four States. For over two months in the fall of 2022 he worked remotely with NPR staff to relaunch to an NPR style news and information website.

In the fall of 2023 Fred was promoted to Interim General Manager and was appointed GM in Feburary of 2024.
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