250 Sonoma County students get taste of careers in food, beverage manufacturing
Piner High School student Natalie Avila job-shadowed for a year at a Healdsburg restaurant, so she was intrigued to ask about career opportunities at a Healdsburg bakery that was among the employers looking to inspire for later hire via a regional job fair in Santa Rosa on Thursday.
Avila and fellow Piner culinary arts program students Mariana Barajas and Giselle Soto talked with Costeaux French Bakery owner Will Seppi about the breadmaking process and ways to start in that business. Avila had worked last school year in the kitchen with Spoonbar chef Casey Van Voorhis as part of the Piner’s culinary program.
“I learned from her how to make fresh pasta and organic eggs,” Avila said.
Costeaux was one of 18 local companies participating in the second annual Food & Beverage Manufacturing Careers Summit, held in the Bertolini Student Center at Santa Rosa Junior College. The summit was put on by the Career Technical Education (CTE) Foundation, in partnership with the Sonoma County Office of Education, North Bay Food Industry Group, the college and Sonoma State University.
Registered to attend the morning session were 147 students from 16 Sonoma County high schools. Close to 100 students from SRJC and SSU attended the fair in the afternoon.
Kicking off the event was Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who also runs Foggy River Farm, a community-supported agriculture business near Healdsburg.
“One of the best things you can do when you are trying to find out what kind of job (you) want is to talk to people who actually have those jobs,” she told the high school students before the job fair. “And it also gives you a leg up: making that personal connection, shaking someone’s hand, having a conversation with them. That is the kind of thing they will remember when they are sorting through a huge stack of resumes to see who they want to hire as a summer intern or who they want to hire for that entry-level position.”
The good news, Hopkins said to them, is they are approaching the job market at a time of worker shortages. Sonoma and Marin counties had the fifth- and second-lowest joblessness rates in California in January, respectively, per the latest state figures. The rate was 3.1 percent in Sonoma and 2.5 percent in Marin.
“It really is an exciting time for food and beverage manufacturing,” Hopkins said. “… It’s a growth industry. We’re seeing an increasing desire across the country: they want to know the story behind their food. They just don’t want a generic product anymore.”
A panel of local employers fielded questions students texted in about their businesses and how to start in such careers. Afterward, there was a job fair, where students could practice interview skills taught by their teachers and counselors to learn what careers are possible and what’s needed to get into them.
“What entry-level jobs are available?” Diogo Carrillo asked Sylvia Proctor, who was staffing Clover Sonoma’s job fair table.
Proctor told the Geyserville High School sophomore and fellow students Nancy Gonzalez and Veronica Diaz Jimenez, both seniors, that some Clover jobs such as in HR call for college degrees, but high schoolers could start out in some office roles. And after high school, there are jobs in production and distribution.
“But to be a class A driver, you have to be 21,” Proctor told the students. She is vice president for human resources at the Petaluma-based dairy processor.