Kelli Demarest doesn’t coach a sport at Ridgeline High School but she can still deliver an impressive pep talk.
Instead of preparing athletes to excel on the playing field, Demarest helps students gear up for success in fields like manufacturing, retail, healthcare, technology, and more.
Earlier this year, Demarest coordinated a job fair at Ridgeline – a new high school in Liberty Lake that opened last fall  – under the banner of the Central Valley School District (CVSD). The event on May 12, 2022, was attended by close to 1,000 students and featured booths from 35 companies. Demarest, a Career and Technical Education (CTE) teacher, worked closely with the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce to recruit a variety of businesses and promote the job fair.
“Having the chamber as a partner was huge,” Demarest said. “They really helped us get the word out.”
Demarest said students were enthused about the chance to survey the local employment landscape.
“We really emphasized opportunities that are out there right now,” she said. “The job market is ripe. If they’re responsible and reliable and put their phones away, they’re going to get hired.”
The fair focused on summer jobs, internships, and job shadows. Companies ranged from household names like Nike and Amazon to local pillars like the Spokane Valley Fire Department and the City of Liberty Lake. Students spoke with representatives from a variety of industries, including food services, banking, manufacturing, hospitality, healthcare, landscaping, and the nonprofit sector.
“It was a fun but also a professional-type atmosphere,” Demarest said. “I think it was encouraging for the employers to see how great kids really are. Sometimes, kids get a bad rap.”
Along with Ridgeline, Spokane Valley Tech, Central Valley, Mica Peak, and University high schools were represented with attendees.
Demarest arrived at CVSD for the beginning of the 2021-22 school year following 17 years in the Deer Park School District. After being hired, she met with Karen Hay, CTE and Secondary Curriculum director for CVSD, who came up with the idea for a job fair.
Demarest met with all the sophomores and juniors at Ridgeline (the school had no senior class in its inaugural year) in the month leading up to the event.
“We worked on putting together resumes and cover letters and went over job interview skills,” she said. “They created resumes and brought them to the job fair.”
A survey from employers following the fair produced rave reviews. A total of 57 percent found the event “very valuable” while 43 percent felt it was “somewhat valuable.”
“We got such great feedback,” Demarest said. “People said it was well-organized and it made sense to have it during the school day. I think it exceeded expectations.”
Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Lance Beck said Demarest deserves credit for her orchestration efforts.
“Kelli was at the chamber several days a week working on this early in the planning process,” Beck said. “She did a great job bridging the gap between the new school and employers and using the Chamber as a tool.”
Demarest said some students secured employment based on contacts made at the event.
CVSD also now features a digital employment board that includes job leads and resources for resumes and interview preparation.
Just a few miles to the west of the Ridgeline campus, another showcase this fall will shed additional light on youth workforce development.
An event called “Unlock Your Future” will take place at the HUB Sports Center in Liberty Lake on October 5, 2022, with a focus on what the HUB’s Executive Director, Phil Champlin, described as industries that have jobs not requiring a college degree.
“We know there are other pathways to success,” he said.
Champlin said the idea for the event branched off the HUB 360 afterschool program that began in 2009.
“Part of that program is talking about what skills, trades, and jobs are needed as the current labor force retires,” he said. “Kids also learned that a college degree doesn’t automatically equal success. College is a tool that you can use to be successful but there are also other avenues.”
The inaugural version of Unlock Your Future, originally slated for October of 2020, was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A committee comprised of local nonprofits, school administrators, counselors, CTE staff and local business chambers, including the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce, began meeting in early 2020 to discuss the event.
The rescheduled gathering was set to happen last October  with over 40 companies on board. Then the Delta variant hit. Leading up to the occasion, an employment handbook was created for middle school students. In early October last year, 5,400 copies were distributed in District 81 as well as the Central Valley, East Valley, West Valley, Mead, Cheney and Freeman school districts.
The resource guide features scholarship and program information along with summaries of companies in fields like manufacturing, medical, construction as well as information on trades and apprenticeships.
“This also gives (school) counselors another opportunity to have these discussions,” Champlin said.
Champlin said he spoke with representatives from the homebuilding industry in preparation for the event, basing it loosely on a Career Construction Day format.
“They told me about the need for something like this,” he said. “Just to present what opportunities are out there.”
Opportunity is a byword of the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce Foundation, a 501 c(3) sister entity of the chamber that provides CTE scholarships to seniors and graduates of Spokane Valley area high schools. Applicants must be pursuing a degree or certificate in a trade.
The foundation bills itself as “an organization committed to promoting and enhancing community development through the creation and sponsorship of scholarships, leadership development and educational programs.”
Scholarships range up to $4,500 and can go toward tuition, fees, and tools or equipment required for a program. Beck said a high percentage of students earning the grants attend schools like Spokane Community College, North Idaho College, Anvil Welding Instruction, and Oxarc Welding School.
“This is a needs-based and merit-based program,” Beck said. “Our goal is to keep kids staying local.”
Beck said those who work in trades are critical to the vitality of local commerce.
“We can’t have a functioning community without plumbers, welders, machinists and other workers like that,” he said. “Those jobs have been the backbone of the greater Spokane Valley for decades.”
This article was published in the 2022 Greater Spokane Valley Chamber Magazine.