Commentary: Effort will help direct youths into skilled jobs

A partnership in north Snohomish County seeks to guide students into training for skilled trades.

By David Beyer, Leonard Kelley, Jon Nehring, Nate Nehring and Barbara Tolbert

For The Herald

As the construction industry in Snohomish County and the greater Puget Sound region continues to boom, we are constantly hearing the same critical message from industry leaders: There is a significant workforce shortage in the skilled trades.

Years of societal pressure and public policy have resulted in our youths not being encouraged to pursue the trades but rather to seek degrees in two- and four-year institutions. Additionally, it is typical that almost half of recent high school graduates do not pursue any form of postsecondary training or education. While the traditional college path presents great opportunities for some, time has shown that a one-size-fits all approach to career readiness is not working. As many of our young adults sit in minimum-wage jobs or are burdened with debt, local family-wage jobs in the skilled trades remain empty. It is time for us to work together to break down barriers that are preventing young adults from a successful career in the skilled trades.

Recent workforce studies have shown that the three most prominent trades in Snohomish County are carpenters, construction laborers and electricians, who collectively make up almost a third of the construction industry. Snohomish County is expected to see the highest percentage of growth in the construction industry in the entire Puget Sound region. North Snohomish County has been identified as a potential hub for these skilled trades because of the renewed focus from local school districts on career and technical education (CTE) programs, the regional growth and skilled labor projects slated for the near future, and the presence of the new Arlington-Marysville Manufacturing Industrial Center, which is projected to foster more than 20,000 family-wage jobs in coming years.

An ongoing effort has brought together a diverse and invested group of local stakeholders, including educators, elected officials and leaders from labor and industry. All recognize the critical need to develop our local workforce in order to fill the family-wage jobs that will play a key role in our region’s economic growth.

One problem identified by labor organizations is that those going into apprenticeships are already in their late-20s. This means we are losing out on an entire decade of productivity and career development for youths once they graduate from high school. The goal of our effort is to create a more seamless transition from the K-12 education system into a career in the skilled trades.

Through valuable partnerships that have been formed in north Snohomish County, we believe that we can make this vision a reality. Everett Community College has partnered with local school districts to work on dual-credit opportunities so that a prospective student could enroll in a pre-apprenticeship program resulting in a high school diploma and college credit. Partnerships with local labor unions have resulted in curriculum development so that students who complete a pre-apprenticeship program will have a direct pathway from high school graduation to a career in the skilled trades.

The program would include classroom training on important construction-related coursework, including worker safety, reading blueprints, applied mathematics, use of basic hand tools and more. A specialized curriculum will be developed with the help of local labor unions to provide craft-specific field training. This skills-based education will be critical to students’ success in the trades.

Creating an easier path for our youth to enter into a career in the skilled trades benefits the entire community. The potential for increased graduation rates gives an advantage to participating school districts. An increase in the skilled workforce will be an asset to both labor organizations and local businesses. Local residents will have greater opportunity to fill local jobs paying wages that can support families.

This is a new approach for creating better pathways for students to reach their fullest potential. Our approach will streamline the pipeline from high school to a career in the skilled trades. Once in place, this program could serve as a model across the state for pre-apprenticeships and skilled workforce training. This would require a further look into state policies and funding for education to reduce barriers and encourage programs that prepare students for careers in skilled trades. However, we can start taking steps toward creating more pathways for students with the pre-apprenticeship program in the works now.

Addressing the workforce shortage is not a simple task but it is one that requires the investment of our collective efforts. This innovative effort to address our local and regional workforce shortage is gaining momentum as we continue to work toward standing up a program in the near future.

The need is here, the people are here, and the opportunity is here.

Dr. David Beyer is president of Everett Community College. Leonard Kelley is secretary/treasurer for the Snohomish County Labor Counil and mayor of Stanwood. Jon Nehring is mayor of Marysville. Nate Nehring is a Snohomish County council member. And Barbara Tolbert is mayor of Arlington.

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