Longview School district’s pre-apprenticeship vocational program gained state recognition Thursday, only the second Washington school district to do so. School officials said the certification will open employment opportunities for local students.
“Employers will look at this and say, ‘You have the skills I need, and you got them in high school,’” said Jill Diehl, Longview’s executive director of school and student services.
Vancouver Public Schools’ program is also state-recognized.
Diehl said the Washington State Apprenticeship and Training Council certifications for pre-apprenticeship are usually given to trade schools or community colleges. The program gives students hands-on knowledge in electrical skills, welding, plumbing, metal fabrication and other trades, many of which have been lacking young people to replace a retiring generation of workers.
“That gives (students) an advantage going into their apprenticeship,” Diehl said. “They will be able to say they graduated from a state-recognized program – in high school.”
To get state recognition, the program needs to have an industry sponsor. Longview partnered with the Longview/Kelso Building and Constructions Trade Council, which Diehl said “created a great relationship" with the local trade unions.
For a R.A. Long senior Brian Webster, the program offers a tangible learning experience.
“I don’t like sitting at a desk,” Webster said. He wants to go into welding and in the district’s program he is learning the basics of welding.
“I can see what I’m doing,” Webster said. “In English, I turn in a paper and I never see it again.”
Mike Bridges, president of the Longview/Kelso Building and Constructions Trade Council, said state recognition will be an advantage for graduates looking to get into highly competitive apprenticeships.
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“We realize we’re getting a better applicant at that point,” Bridges said. “They’ve put some thought into (the path they chose).”
While the district only started the program last year, Diehl said graduating students have already been hired. She said what sets Longview’s program apart is the curriculum.
Longview is the first high school in Washington to use the “Multi-Craft Core Curriculum” from the North America’s Building Trades Union, Diehl said. The curriculum is intended for community college level programs. After passing the courses, students are certificated in the skills.
“It’s a win-win for ours kids and our community to have a program like this,” Diehl said. “You can’t get the recognition without the quality.”
Even students’ core classes — such as math — are aligned with their future career paths. For example, Diehl said students can choose to take “geometry in construction” for a math credit instead of the standard geometry class. In art, students might draft a picture of a house or building remodel.
Bridges said students get exposed to many trade crafts.
“They might come in thinking, ‘I want to be a pipefitter or electrician’ and find they have an aptitude for working with wood,” Bridges said.
Students with a certificate from a state-recognized pre-apprentice program also have the possibility of gaining direct entry into some trade apprenticeship programs, while other apprenticeship programs give advantages in the application process, such as direct interviews at the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center in Portland. The classes also count as duel credits at Lower Columbia College or Clark College.
Diehl said as technical workers are in high demand, the program is a boost for both students and the economy. And Bridges said that the program helps fill a skills gap employers have been grappling with.
“We know there’s a group of students out there interested in these sorts of positions,” Bridges said. “A lot of them aren’t hearing about those opportunities, so that’s where we jump in.”
The program will have the state recognition for the next five years, Diehl said, and then she will need to re-apply. All Longview students can participate, but Diehl said the district is also looking at opening any vacant spots up to students from nearby districts.
“It’s exciting to see it come together but the most exciting part is ... seeing the kids in action,” Diehl said.
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