In an effort to provide Woodburn High School (WHS) students with post-secondary opportunities that do not require a college degree but provide a comfortable living, Woodburn High School College and Career Counselor Mario Garza, CTE coordinator Steve Schilling and Success High School teacher Mari Hoiland recently teamed up with the Willamette Education Service District to showcase jobs in the trade industry during National Apprenticeship Week.
The group participated in a field trip that provided student participants from WHS an opportunity to explore a few trade jobs in construction with a focus on training electricians and apprenticeship opportunities in the local area, including Woodburn.
The first stop was at Independent Electrical Training Center (IETC) in Salem. Students got a briefing on the protocols, expectations and most common results from completing a four-year apprenticeship training program provided by schools like IETC and Chemeketa Community College, the second stop of the trip.
“You work full-time and you go to school two times a week,” said Zandi Cox, President of Cox Electric and advocate for IETC. “Our current tuition is only $1,400 per year plus books. In a span of four years, you will spend $6,000 on your education and be making a $100K per year. These aren’t inflated numbers. This isn’t, kind of, maybe, sort of. We have a serious shortage of electricians, and the opportunity now is excellent. You will be making top dollar as soon as you get that license.”
IETC Education Director, Jeff Hopper, explained to students that like every career this may not be for them but if chosen he agreed with Cox that they are bound to make a comfortable living since the unemployment rate for electricians is 0 percent, even going into negative numbers.
“The unemployment rate for electricians is -9 percent,” said Hopper. “My father was an electrician and while he made a good living, he was also able to put three kids through college.”
Hopper said that like anything in life, completing an apprenticeship program is not as easy as it sounds, even if there isn’t a lot of school hours per week to complete. Perseverance is an obvious requirement for completing one of these programs but the nice thing about it is that you are getting paid as you acquire your required work hours and classroom time.
“The four-year rule is 8,000 hours of work time and 576 hours of classroom time,” said Hopper. “Those requirements are actually established by the state of Oregon and the Department of Labor.”
From IETC, students attended another information session at Chemeketa Community College where they learned about training programs in automotive, sheet metaling, welding, and other construction trades opportunities.
“I think there is a lot of education to be done about the trades, the careers and the type of living that could be made on the trades,” said Garza. “With our population, many people see college as a pathway out of poverty, a pathway to success. While I think college is definitely one pathway towards that, there are many post-secondary opportunities that can offer that to their students.
“I think it is a matter of trying to educate not only our students but educating our families as well, and to be honest educating our teachers and other staff on campus as well. There are a lot of different roads out of high school, and while college is certainly one of them, we need to make sure students understand all of their options.”
Like many schools across Oregon, Garza and other educators at WHS are making a push to educate students and families about careers in the trades and other post-secondary options that are not four-year university related. He said that for years many schools across the country pushed solely for four-year university opportunities, excluding other options that could have helped those that didn’t make it at a university.
“While I believe a four-year university education is a great pathway, it is not for everyone,” said Garza.
To learn more about the trades and how to educate students and their families on the topic, this past summer Garza was one of a few Oregon educators that participated in a recently launched partnership program, Educational Externship, between the Associated General Contractors in Oregon and Willamette Education Service District Willamette Promise.
“We put this in place to fill the outcomes we were seeing there was some gaps in both education and industry,” said Cherie Clark, Regional Coordinator Willamette Promise. “We put together a program where educators go out for eight days and they learn about the construction industry.
“They get to look at project management, estimating. They do a little safety training; they learn about apprenticeships. They also learn about the back office so they understand there are people behind the scenes that are doing procurement, accounting, marketing and IT. They learn about the certificates and two-year pathways. At OSU they learn about the four-year and masters pathways that students could utilize to get into this high-wage, high-demand careers.”
Educating the educators is what Educational Externship is all about. As a student of this program this past summer, Garza spent time on the job with Oregon-Cascade Plumbing in Salem, Roto Rooter Plumbing in Gladstone and also visited several construction sites with Lease Crutcher Lewis, NW College of Construction, PNW Regional Council of Carpenters, Sheet Metal Worker’s International Union and Knife River Excavation, to name a few.
“The Educational Externship experience gave me insight to the need for professional tradespeople and the financial and other benefits of these careers,” said Garza. “It confirmed for me that Apprenticeships are not an alternative for people that can’t get into college, but in fact a different pathway towards a rewarding career.
“My hope is that Woodburn School District can strengthen and develop CTE programs and other classes that can give our students the experience and skills needed to compete for these internship opportunities.”