FORT WALTON BEACH — When 26 fifth-graders from Kenwood Elementary School arrived at Okaloosa Technical College for a field trip on Friday, a few of them said their first thought was that they were at church.

Reading teacher Lisa Griggs, who organized the trip, said she was not expecting that reaction, but as the kids were on their best behavior and enjoyed free snacks, she couldn’t argue the notion.

“We like to bring them to Choice (High School) so they can have a choice,” said Griggs, who noted the real reason for the trip. “We at Kenwood are just hoping that we can plant a seed, even though they’re fifth-graders, that they realize there are other options.”

The idea for the field trip first came to her two years ago from conversations she had with her students about their future careers. She said many of them just didn’t know what careers were available.

“It’s kind of fascinating to think about the time, seven years from now, when they are ready to graduate from high school there might even be new careers that we don’t even know about yet,” she said.

On Friday the students had the chance to explore six disciplines offered at Okaloosa Technical College, such as nursing, culinary, welding, cosmetology, automotive and building trades.

“There’s a huge gap in employees who are ready to do the trade skills,” said Carl Grimes, career adviser for the college. “The older generations, a lot of them are retiring, and it’s almost at a critical stage.”

Grimes said the education world has pushed traditional college degrees as its highest form. That thought process has led to a shortage of trade-skill workers and a rise in student debt, he said.

“We’ve got is an affordable way to make a good career, get a certification for life,” Grimes said of Okaloosa Technical College. “We need to get the word out, not just to kids who are graduating seniors, but the word needs to get out a lot sooner about the other options that are available.”

As for the kids, 11-year-old Kameron Kestner said his favorite part of the field trip was the automotive trade.

“I really like cars and want to work on them,” he said. “When I grow up I need to know how to fix a car.”

Angel Drake said she was most impressed by the welding demonstration.

“The reason I like welding is because I want to experience how you can cut metal with fire,” Angel said. “I thought, 'you can’t just melt steel and metal with just fire.' ”