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Tricks of the trade | Business

As high school seniors face their final semester, the decision of whether to pursue a college degree or stay in Taos to learn a specific trade at the family business can be a tough one.

While many choose to escape small town life for the brighter lights of bigger cities, others say they want to stay to create a life here in the valley they have come to know and love. But it isn’t always that easy, even for those who want to find a career in a practical trade, such as mechanics or welding — services communities of every size need.

Those who have chosen to stay in the area after high school say they are facing few options, but they appreciate what opportunities exist.

At Point S Tire, near Super Save along Paseo del Pueblo Sur, owner David Sauter said he has been open to working with young folks for some time, but said it was hard to find a steady stream of high school interns or employees through the school system, so instead he relies mainly on word of mouth.

Sauter has family coming into the business, with his son set to take over as manager in the coming years and his granddaughter, Ariel, a high school student, also working with the crew. Initially, the idea to take on interns came in 2015, when he was having trouble keeping a steady workforce.

He appreciates the opportunity for young people to work in a trade job. “It gives them an opportunity to experience a real world situation, as opposed to just a classroom situation,” he said.

Currently, Sauter has four employees who have been part of the intern program. One of those people is Jeffery Gossner, who first came to the business as a family friend and ended up turning his life around thanks to the help of the Sauters and the trade.

Gossner, 21, said he ran away from home at 13 to escape a home life he said involved serious physical abuse and drug use. Running down the street, Gossner went to his godmother’s house, where he was taken in by members of the Sauter family.

Before he knew it, he was 16 years old and an intern at Point S. Now, he said he has found his real family. “This job kind of really is one of the reasons why I changed the whole course of my life,” he said.

The story is a little different for Emilio Velarde, 18, who is currently working at Point S after school during his senior year at Vista Grande High School. Velarde said he was interested in the trade when he stopped by with his dad and ended up wandering into the garage area.

“I came over here to see what everybody was doing and how to do it,” said Velarde. “I figured it’d be a good chance to learn, get some new experience and different things.” As it stands, Velarde said he wants to continue working for Point S after high school, but is saving up money to go to college in Farmington to become a mechanic.

However, after college, Velarde said he wants to come back to Taos. “I had multiple different ideas of leaving and staying, but I figure my whole family is here and if I were to leave, I’d have absolutely nobody.”

Idle hours in a small town

For other recent high school graduates pursuing careers in various trades, the decision to leave Taos versus coming back can be just as hard, but due to the limited availability of certain trade opportunities, some say they feel leaving is their best bet at success.

Emily Cordova, 20, has been interested in welding from a young age. Born and raised in Taos, she moved to Colorado to live with her grandparents for a period of time before coming back to Taos for high school. But she may not be here for the long haul.

In high school she led her welding class, showing younger students the ropes. After graduation, she wanted to learn even more about the craft. She attended a nine-month course in Denver, where she learned the finer points of welding sheet metal.

Upon her return to Taos (mostly to be with her family) she said she applied to be a tire technician at another local shop due to her background in tire repair. However, Cordova ended up as the receptionist. Still, she said this has been a good opportunity for her. “My whole passion is welding, so me being a receptionist has actually gotten me a couple of side jobs,” she said.

Cordova said she has found few options to expand her welding career beyond the side jobs. “It’s hard here because we’re not very big. There’s not too much direction for really anyone in the trades to go,” she said, which prompted her to apply for a job in Los Alamos.

“Taos is more or less dead set in their ways of trying to stay small and hometown-ish, and it sucks, because that’s what drives a lot of younger people away,” she said. “The only reason they come back is because something doesn’t work out.”

She referred to her current job at the tire shop as a “stepping stone… It’s something that I already know how to do, and I can do that while I’m working towards what my original goal is.”

Gossner added to this sentiment, agreeing there were few opportunities in Taos, but said he was lucky to find his passion in tires at Point S. “Growing up in Taos, there really wasn’t much to do, and then as well as having a parent that’s abusing a substance — it makes it really hard.”

Regardless, Gossner said he has made the most of it. “When you’re working in the service industry, especially the automotive service industry, you find it not to be as boring as it used to be … When you take something apart with your hand and you put it back together, it’s just really cool .”

Over at Taos High School, senior Lucas Filiss, 19, has been crafting his own vocational career path with the help of Taos High School Transition Coordinator Richard Quintana. Filiss had shown an interest in law enforcement and helping others that was identified by Quintana during an ONET test, or a questionnaire that shows what careers may best suit a student.

As for Filiss, “he just really wants to help people,” said Quintana. After doing ride-alongs with the Taos Police Department and intern training with the TaosVolunteer Fire Department, Filiss said his main focus is to enter law enforcement, but said he’s not yet sure if he’ll take a job in Taos or somewhere else.

“Taos is cool, but I kind of want to expand my living situation,” he said. “I don’t want to be stuck just living in Taos my whole life.” He said moving to a city with more crime and “more ways that I can help” is appealing to him.

Some students and recent graduates may be itching to leave Taos, but some who have been through that process in decades past said that while they may have felt the same way at one point, they are happy to have ended up with lives where they grew up .

Joseph Santisteven is the manager and future owner of Ms. Quick Stop Oil & Lube, which has been a staple oil replacement shop in Taos for the last 25 years. Starting at 13, he began working at the shop with his parents, learning to change oil and do general car maintenance.

When Santistevan finally reached his late teens, he decided to give college a try, and went to UNM to study business. After several years, he ultimately decided college wasn’t for him, and moved back to Taos. But he didn’t return immediately to the family business.

For the first five years upon his return to Taos, Santistevan worked at a bar. The 35-year-old said it wasn’t until the bar days were over that he realized he was passionate about his family’s business.

Santistevan echoed the statements of younger Taoseños: He said it took some time to come around to Taos as an adult. “Growing up in Taos, it was very hard, especially when I was younger. I didn’t have a lot of experience doing anything, so it was hard finding anything that you actually like and enjoy,” he said. “Now I love it,” he said.

Richard Quintana also faced similar circumstances before he eventually took a job helping teenagers find their passion. “I did my share of exploration before I came back to Taos and settled down here,” he said. “I would have to say that the majority of the kids say that they want to leave Taos.”

However, leaving Taos may not be as simple as one may think, he pointed out. “I think there’s oftentimes a strong sense of wanting to get out and explore a little bit, but Taos just seems to be one of those places where it’ll pull back a lot of people that don’t think they want to come back. ”

Quintana said he can vividly remember some of his classmates saying, “I just want to get out of here and don’t ever want to look back.” Now, Quintana added, he’s teaching some of their kids.

Currently there are more reasons to stay in the area than to leave, said Quintana. This includes people interested in their family’s business, students interested in exploring the artistic opportunities the town has to offer, as well as those who may want to explore a trade elsewhere then bring it back to Taos.

“Today I talked to a young lady who wants to do auto body mechanics, and to do that kind of thing, she needs to leave and get her training, but wants to come back,” he said. “I’ve been very fortunate to work with all the kids that I have been. And I hope that a lot of them come back to the community.”

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