Commentary: Path to apprenticeships now starts at high school

Labor, industry and education have teamed to help students start a path toward careers in trades.

By Nate Nehring / For The Herald

With the state of our thriving local economy, low unemployment rates, and an upcoming retirement wave, one of the most significant challenges we face as a county and region is a shortage in the workforce.

As a Snohomish County Council member, I hear about this need from nearly every employer I speak with, from aerospace to maritime to the construction industry. In particular, there is a need for skilled labor.

Given our education system’s focus on pathways leading toward four-year universities, it should be no surprise that we now face this major workforce shortage. A four-year university education can be valuable for some, but many could benefit from greater access to pathways into the trades. While many college graduates now work minimum wage jobs and are burdened with student debt, high-paying trades jobs with competitive benefits sit empty.

In Snohomish County, we are working proactively to increase access to family-wage careers. Over the last two years, we have built a coalition of representatives from labor, industry and education. Community leaders from these sectors have come together to talk about how we can work together to provide meaningful solutions to the problem of a workforce shortage. What began as a group of stakeholders around a table has resulted in the creation of the Regional Apprenticeship Pathways (RAP) Program, which is being hailed as a potential statewide model for workforce development.

As a result of in-depth discussions between sectors and site tours of existing workforce development programs, the concept of a pre-apprenticeship program within the high school setting was organically produced. There currently exists several state-certified apprenticeship programs for a variety of skilled trades, from carpenters to electricians to laborers. What has been lacking is a pipeline of students with the basic skills and confidence to pursue these apprenticeship programs. The average apprentice is in his or her late 20s before beginning a program, representing an entire lost decade of post-high school productivity. As a group, our goal has been to bridge that 10-year gap.

The RAP Program brings hands-on training in the skilled trades back into the high school. With curriculum developed in partnership with state-certified apprenticeship programs based on what they hope to see in their future applicants, students participating in the RAP Program have the opportunity to develop skills around safety, tool usage and applied mathematics that will prepare them well for a future career in the trades.

Thanks to involved partners such as the Marysville School District and Everett Community College, we have been able to overcome barriers to this type of training, which typically result from stringent graduation requirements. A student can participate in the dual-credit RAP Program during their junior or senior year of high school. Students who successfully complete the program can graduate high school with their diploma, a college credential designed by Everett Community College, and a preferred entry option into the trade of their choice.

While the RAP Program is hosted at Marysville Pilchuck High School, it is open to students throughout Snohomish County. This year’s inaugural class has participating students from five high schools. The concept of the RAP Program was made possible by dedicated community leaders from labor, industry and education. Turning that concept into a reality required funding. Local partners came together to cover the startup costs, with Snohomish County contributing $200,000, the Marysville School District contributing a facility, and labor and education partners finalizing the curriculum.

To cover the costs of operating expenses, we brought forward a request to the state Legislature to be included in the biennial state operating budget. State Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, championed the effort to fund this request last session. With the support of members of both parties from our Snohomish County legislative delegation as well as legislators from other parts of the state who recognized the potential for this innovative workforce program, our request was fully funded by the Legislature.

Since the funding was secured in July, key partners have worked diligently to hire staff, register students and get the program started at the beginning of the 2019/20 school year. I am excited to report that there is a full class of students participating in the RAP Program this year with the capacity to expand to two classes next year. These are students who may otherwise have been pushed down post-secondary pathways that did not fit their interests or skill sets. Thanks to the great work of several community partners, these students will now be given the opportunity to get a hands-on education in the trades that will prepare them for a successful career following high school.

We see this program as a potential statewide model for addressing the workforce shortage while providing greater opportunities for our youth. The early success of the RAP Program based on stories from students on how this has positively impacted their lives is something which we can all be proud of.

Nate Nehring is a Snohomish County Council member, representing the council’s 1st District.

RAP ribbon-cutting

To learn more about the RAP program, you are invited to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7 at Marysville-Pilchuck High School. For details, contact

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