Breaking in to the lucrative outdoor industry
Panel discussion highlights careers in outdoor sector
• By Caleigh Cross | Stowe Reporter
Pam Jaspersohn, who teaches at Craftsbury Outdoor Center, speaks about finding full-time employment in the outdoor sector at a Career Pathways panel discussion at River Arts in Morrisville. Students from four schools attended.
Photo by Caleigh Cross
When it comes to career opportunities in Vermont, it’s better to show, not tell.
That was the spirit behind a panel discussion of careers in outdoor recreation, held last Thursday at River Arts in Morrisville and organized by Vermont’s Vocational Rehabilitation Division, Lamoille Family Center, Vermont Association of Business Industry and Rehabilitation and Lamoille Restorative Center.
The panel was for people who want to work outside, but need help figuring out how to get there, said DJ Masi of the Vocational Rehabilitation Division.
A dozen Lamoille County names in outdoor recreation contributed to the discussion, but the real shining spot for the 45 people in the audience was the networking time afterward. They swarmed the panel, asking for a roadmap to help them break into the outdoor industry, which is a lucrative one.
Vermont’s state parks drew more than $6.3 million in revenue last year; Vermont’s trail networks draw more than $30 million a year in tourist revenue.
Walter Opuszynski, who works in the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, estimated there are 51,000 jobs in the outdoor industry, and one in every five Vermont workers are part of an industry connected with outdoor recreation.
Chatting in a “relaxed, informal way, with no pressure to ‘perform’ that may be part of a one-on-one meeting with a manager or business owner,” can help people just starting their career paths, Masi said — such as students, who made up the bulk of the crowd Thursday.
Pursuing your passion
At the event were students from Cabot High School, Hazen Union High School, Peoples Academy and Lamoille Union High School.
“It’s so beneficial because so often, they think Vermont has nothing to offer, and (they are) going to have to move out of the state,” said Shoshana Frieden, employment specialist with Lamoille Family Center.
Instead, “that resource draws people to the state,” Opuszynski said of the jobs in the outdoor industry. “It’s an important industry.”
Susan Alexander, manager of Lamoille Regional Solid Waste Management District, told students there’s a lot of value in “doing what your passion is.”
“If you’re forcing yourself to study accounting when you’d rather be outside,” you won’t be fulfilled, and likely won’t be as driven to succeed, Alexander said.
That’s a personal truth; Alexander always loved the outdoors, but tried to shoehorn herself into a career in accounting.
On the first Earth Day in 1970, when she was in grammar school, Alexander remembers seeing a nun outside picking up trash.
“It really impressed me that this woman in a long black habit was out there picking up trash,” she said. “If she could do it, I could too.”
She advised students not to wait until they’ve already completed their education in something else to pursue their passion in outdoor recreation.
Worth the wait
For Monique Beaudry, human resources manager at Jasper Hill Farms, her job is a dream come true.
“We have a lot of money going through the area,” Beaudry said. Farming is a huge part of the Vermont economy, and getting in on the ground floor of a large operation can be an advantageous career move.
“I would never have thought when I was in high school that I would be doing what I’m doing today, but if you take a different path, there’s a lot of opportunities out there,” Beaudry said.
Nora Woolf is recruitment and member services manager for the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps, and says she built her full-time career after several years of seasonal work.
Fifteen summers, to be exact, she said.
“I grew up going to the fish and wildlife camps, and immediately learned loving being outside, being around other people who loved to be outside, and teaching. I kind of stuck with the camps for a long time,” she said.
She hires about 250 people ages 15 to 25 every season.
“You definitely can start your path now as a young person,” she said. “Do what you do, and maybe you’ll find a new path.”
Woolf’s 15 summers struck a chord with the other panelists, who agreed — in Vermont, and in the outdoor industry — it takes time to establish a full-time career.
For Pam Jaspersohn, who teaches at Craftsbury Outdoor Center, it took decades.
“I’m almost 70 and I’m doing my dream job,” she said.
“I don’t see any other way I would live my life,” said Rick Dyer, the Lamoille County forester. “I spent a lot of years in school” studying science and biology.
Bobbi Meddo, 13, a student from Cabot, approached Maggie Sullivan-Towers, a landscape architect, after the panel was over.
“I was interested in learning landscape architecture,” Bobbi said. “I’ve always wanted to do architecture and work with flowers and plants.”
Takeaways from her conversation with Sullivan-Towers include her ability to forge her own path working outside.
Opuszynski said exposing young people to the opportunities to work in the outdoor industry will help them realize they don’t need to move out of state.
“I hear that all the time,” he said. “People are responding to that politically.”
He’s trying to see if more seasonal jobs can be converted to full-time jobs, since it’s hard for people to take seasonal jobs when they often don’t provide benefits, such as health insurance, usually reserved for year-round, full-time employment.
“We lose people that way,” he said. “It seems like people want that full-time job immediately.”
For Jade McAllister, a single mom of an 11-year-old who lives in Johnson, the panel was enlightening.
She spent time chatting with Theresa Snow, executive director of Salvation Farms, and is interested in working and volunteering there, because she might be able to bring her son.
“This is for everyone,” she said. “I’m inspired.”
• Outdoor Recreation
• Vermont’s Vocational Rehabilitation Division
• Lamoille Family Center
• Vermont Association Of Business Industry And Rehabilitation
• Lamoille Restorative Center
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