With more entry-level and lower-paying jobs to fill, and a higher turnover rate, the food and beverage manufacturing industry faces greater challenges in hiring and keeping its workforce than other industries, according to the Sonoma County Workforce Investment Board.

In response to that challenge, the CTE Foundation Sonoma County created the first Food & Beverage Manufacturing Student/Industry Symposium. It brought together in Santa Rosa on April 27 local businesses looking for workers and high school and college students interested in that industry.

Job fairs such as these, targeting a specific industry, produce better results matching employers with workers than multiindustry events, according to board officials.

“It’s working and employers are pleased with that,” said Patricia Andrews, the county’s WIB manager.

Fifteen local businesses at the event included E&J Gallo, Cowgirl Creamery, Costeaux French Bakery and Traditional Medicinals. They were looking to fill all levels of positions from sales, to bottling lines, warehousing and customer service. Jobs range from seasonal to full-time work.

La Tortilla Factory is looking to fill production work that spans three different shifts, said Amanda Roybal, senior recruiter for the company. The company regularly recruits at job fairs, events through universities and education programs and a variety of job boards, she said.

Jackson Family Wines brought a mobile bottling line to introduce students interested in mechanical, maintenance and engineering careers to equipment found in many beverage manufacturing operations.

As program manager at Sonoma County Economic Development Board, Heather LoBue said she hears every day from Sonoma County employers looking for workers with specific hard and soft skills that include computer knowledge — specifically, the Microsoft Excel spreadsheet program — teamwork and high-level customer service.

During the day-long event at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, students had an opportunity to meet face to face with hiring managers, share resumes and learn about internship and job opportunities that align with their interests.

“We need to keep this growing industry moving and help students along in their career path, to help them figure out what they need to know, what skills to learn and what training and education is needed for the jobs they want,” said Stephen Jackson, director, CTE support services.

He asked the employers what educators need to do to “move the needle” to get kids into such jobs.

Students were invited to participate based on their interest in the food and beverage industry. Teachers worked with them in advance on interview skills and resume preparation. Students also were required to conduct research on the companies they were interested in.

Seniors Sheralynn Fess and Faith Valdez spoke with Will Seppi from Costeaux French Bakery. They said they admire the company’s integrity in its products.

“I like how they run their business,” said Valdez. “They are proud of their products, and are a community oriented, local business.”

At the symposium, professionals from maintenance engineers and quality-control managers to winemakers and production managers talked about how they chose their careers and the skills required to be successful in them.

Kendall Simpson, a senior at Santa Rosa High School, spoke with representatives from Francis Ford Coppola Winery near Geyserville. She is thinking about a job in food marketing and customer service.

“This event has expanded my horizons and opened my eyes to job ideas. At Coppola, it would be an awesome experience to expand my skills and work experience,” she said.

The event was a partnership with the Sonoma County Office of Education, North Bay Food Industry Group, Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University.

Event sponsors included American Ag Credit, Straus Family Creamery, Whole Foods, E&J Gallo, Petaluma Poultry and Cowgirl Creamery.

Since 2013, the foundation has distributed $1.34 million in grants to local schools for CTE-related courses.

Other programs developed through CTE funding since 2013 include the first farm-to-table program at Healdsburg High School, the Switch electric vehicle STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education project, the Regional Health Care Academy at SRJC, development of engineering and design career pathways at local schools, and the expansion of Project Make classes.

Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance.