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Career fairs help EN reach the next generation

Feature Story

​​Denise Brandon, Planning, Scheduling & Outage, and Malick Sarr, Design Engineering, talk with Washington State University students during the career fair this fall.

For decades, college career fairs have been a key strategy that employers use to recruit new employees. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, colleges, students and employers had to get creative to find ways to connect graduates with available jobs.

For the past two years, Energy Northwest pivoted to virtual career fairs. The software platforms allow students to set up meetings with EN representatives to learn about the company and discover opportunities.

Energy Northwest typically sends representatives to regional schools, including Gonzaga University, Washington State University and the University of Idaho, as well as Oregon State University to recruit from its nuclear engineering program. But the virtual fairs provided more options, said Theresa Chow, Human Resources, who oversees recruiting at EN.

“For the last two years, we were able to attend Oklahoma State University's fair, which has a fire protection engineering program," Chow said. “There are only two schools in the U.S. that have the program. The virtual space opened up that opportunity for us to have a presence there."

​​Employee volunteers

The backbone of EN's career fair program is employee volunteers. The career fairs are an important place to recruit for EN's new graduate engineer program, as well as internships and entry-level positions in other departments. Energy Services & Development representatives also attended WSU's in-person fair this year to recruit for its Public Power Internship program.

Volunteers like those from Engineering can give prospective candidates an insider's view on what the department is like.

“A lot of the students ask about what the day-to-day job is like," said Beth McGaughey, Design Engineering, who attended the Oregon State virtual fair this year. “They want to know how their field of engineering would interact with other departments and how they'd fit in to a nuclear plant."

Rick Garcia, Licensing, is in his second year at volunteering for the career fairs.

"It is really interesting just to meet these students and hear their different perspectives," Garcia said. “I like to find out what they know about us and what attracted them to us as a potential employer."

In 2021, a record number of EN employees volunteered to participate in the career fairs, Chow said. Volunteers met with students, answered their questions about EN and collected resumes to share with HR. If the student later applies, the volunteer can provide feedback on the candidate.

“Our employees are realizing how valuable it is to go to career fairs," Chow said. “You get to talk to the students and get them excited about renewable energy and carbon-free generation, and have input on who we hire."

Reaching multiple goals

Recruiting candidates isn't the only goal EN has in attending career fairs, Chow said. The fairs also have a community relations function and help promote the company, clean energy and nuclear power.

“We want to educate students on who we are and what we do," Chow said.

It also helps EN workers see the different educational tracts students may be taking and how they could benefit the workforce.

“You get to listen to these students talk about what they are studying and see that they are doing things that would make them a good fit for us, but may be in disciplines we haven't traditionally hired," Garcia said. “The fairs allow us to appreciate the number of other disciplines that we can draw talent from."

That helps EN diversify its workforce and attract top professionals.

In addition to talking about life in Engineering, McGaughey also shared with students about her experience as chair in EN's Women in Nuclear chapter. She sees the values in having employees from a variety of backgrounds participate in the fairs so that students can see engineers who look like them.

“It's really important to have diverse people being the transmitters of the information about EN," she said. “I like to think that if students see me, and hear I am an engineer, that it does encourage more women to apply.

Tim Nies, Energy & Professional Services, (right) talks with a student about the Public Power Internship program during the WSU career fair.

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