Area businesses opened their doors on Thursday to Platte County high school students to explore local career opportunities.

“There’s a lot of opportunities, lots of careers in the engineering world and there are lots of jobs that need to be filled,” said Jan Gomez, senior at Columbus High School. “There’s always a job open for anyone.”

This was the fifth year National Manufacturing Day was celebrated in the area. Each year, students from Platte County and its surrounding areas spend the day touring local companies which highlight career opportunities available.

Juli Thelen, public relations director for Nebraska Advanced Manufacturing Coalition, said the goal is to highlight the different career opportunities in hopes of closing the skills gap in Columbus, as well as retaining future skilled workers in the community.

There were 10 participating high schools this year, which included CHS, Lakeview, Scotus Central Catholic, Humphrey, Leigh, Clarkson, Howells-Dodge, East Butler, David City and Wisner-Pilger.

Students were broken into groups of 12 according to their schools, and each visited three businesses.

Gomez, who has been attending the event since his freshman year, took a closer look at B-D Construction, Valmont Industries and the Nebraska Army National Guard. He said he enjoyed watching Valmont welders hone their craft, noting it’s a field he’s interested in pursuing.

Brayden Gronenthal, senior at Lakeview, also expressed his interest in welding. The third-time participant said the event never fails to highlight the different career pathways available within the community, in addition to providing a fun time.

Gronenthal and his peers visited BD Medical - Pharmaceutical Systems, Behlen Manufacturing and Columbus Hydraulics.

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Other businesses and organizations participating this year were Central Community College, Mid-Plains Industries, Duo Lift Manufacturing Co. Inc., Superior Industries Inc., Sidump’r Trailer and Columbus Wastewater Treatment.

Companies helping with the event included Assisted Staffing, the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce and Nebraska Vocational Rehabilitation.

Kara Asmus, workforce development coordinator at the Columbus chamber, said during the Nebraska Army National Guard closing ceremony that there are roughly 700 different job positions available daily in Columbus.

For the first time this year, students participated in a scavenger hunt as they toured. The game was put together by SmartHunts, a worldwide company offering creative programming, superior facilitation and propriety technology, such as applications for corporate adventure hunts to team-building programs.

“I wanted something interactive for the students so it would be less of just a day out of school,” she said. “I wanted to really highlight the careers and what we really do and make it fun and exciting so that they would remember the day in the long run.”

Throughout the tour, participants had to take pictures in various poses, answer questions based on the information they learned and complete challenges. The top three groups with the highest scores went home with medals.

“These young adults are going to remember that they learned something; they got to have some hands-on experience in an industry that they might be interested in and they also had a lot of fun, so it makes it a little more memorable,” said Lisa Enochs, master facilitator and content manager at SmartHunts. “That was the goal.”

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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