By Mark Nessia

The missions of the Kern Economic Development Corporation and the Kern Economic Development Foundation go hand in hand.

The corporation focuses on creating jobs in Kern County and the foundation focuses on the people who will fill those jobs.

Acting as a bridge connecting business and education, KEDF’s aim is to grow local talent in STEM-related fields, creating a bigger talent pipeline. According to a survey conducted by Area Development, availability of skilled labor was the No. 1 concern for businesses when expanding or relocating.

The foundation also seeks to increase awareness of what STEM is because STEM education and training is critical to Kern County’s economy.

“We hear STEM so much it feels like everybody should know what it means but nobody really does,” KEDF Executive Director Cheryl Scott said. “Even people who work in STEM don’t know it’s science, technology, engineering, math.”

Kern County STEM will be on full display May 19 during the inaugural Kern County STEMposium.

Held inside the Bakersfield College gymnasium from 8 a.m. to noon, the STEM-themed symposium will feature students from local high schools sharing what they are learning and what they are working on in STEM-related programs, as well as local businesses showcasing what opportunities await those who pursue careers in STEM. The event also doubles as a networking opportunity for youths and potential future employers.

“We’re encouraging the students to dress nicely and bring business cards so they can introduce themselves to the professionals at the event and practice using their soft skills to make connections,” KEDF program coordinator Courtney Ansolabehere said. “We want to be the middle man in between school and businesses.”

STEMposium is free and open to the public.

For the younger attendees, STEMposium hopes to spark an interest in STEM fields.

According to Scott, the average STEM job wage in Kern County is $72,935. The average non-STEM job salary is $37,433. In addition, Kern County ranks No. 4 in the nation for STEM jobs with local industries in energy, agriculture, health care and logistics to name a few.

Keynote speaker Jose Hernandez is a perfect example of what event organizers hope the STEMposium will do for its young attendees.

A son to a migrant farming family working in fields he called “the California circuit,” Hernandez developed an interest in science and engineering in high school and pursued his dream of becoming an astronaut, eventually serving as a mission specialist aboard the International Space Station.

Additional speakers and exhibitors will address topics like cybersecurity, oil and gas, food processing and more.

“This is a great way for (employers) to make an improvement in their workforce,” Scott said. “For anybody whoever wishes they had more qualified applicants coming in, this is one way they can help improve that.”

Sponsorship opportunities and booth space are available.

For additional information, contact 661-862-5157 or Courtney@kedc.com.

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