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A STEP up

Employment program gives students natural resource conservation experience

— In an effort to recruit a younger work force, the Natural Resources Conservation Service is offering part-time employment to Moffat County High School students during the school year.

“It’s more of a recruitment program for us than an employment program for the kids,” said Richard Stephenson, the District Conservationist for Moffat County with the NRCS.

The Student Temporary Employment Program, or STEP, allows students to try their hand at various land conservation projects including seedings and repairing lifestock water systems.

“Most of our work here is range work … with livestock producers,” Stephenson said. “A lot of what we do is administer Farm Bill programs that assist private land owners with conservation on their land.

“It’s a good opportunity for kids interested in natural resource conservation,” he added.

Students interested in the program must first be screened by the high school counseling staff. If approved, Stephenson said, students then undergo an application process through the NRCS that includes an interview, background check and “a ton of government paperwork.”

“This is not a typical after-school job for a kid,” Stephenson said. He said the program requires commitment and responsibility on behalf of the student.

Responsibility is one of the characteristics high school counselor Paula Duzik looks for when seeking possible STEP participants.

Duzik informs teachers about programs including STEP that may interest their students. She also looks for possible program applicants.

Duzik said she asks teachers to look for students who have an interest in natural resource conservation and have had experience in the field before. She also looks for students who demonstrate responsibility and show an interest in studying conservation after high school.

“A lot of our kids are interested in natural resource (careers),” Duzik said. “It’s pretty popular.”

She said she thinks job shadowing programs, like the STEP program and independent study programs available at the high school, can help students get a feel for future careers.

If a student is accepted into STEP, he or she will be paid for their efforts.

“They will be employed at the government level but on the low end of the pay scale,” Stephenson said.

The program is available year round, yet Stephenson said, “We need more help during the summer months.”

The Student Career Experience Program, or SCEP, acts as a counterpart to STEP, allowing college students to work with the conservation service as interns. If SCEP students graduate with a compatible degree, the service may hire them full time, Stephenson said.

He added that both STEP and SCEP are efforts to revitalize an “aging” work force.

“There’s a lot of us (in the conservation service) … getting close to retirement,” Stephenson said.

Bridget Manley can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or bmanley@craigdailypress.com