State Program Focuses on Job Skills for Southwest Washington Students | Education

A one-of-a-kind state program helps local students jump straight from high school into careers in fields like construction and engineering through internships at local businesses.

Education Services District No. 112 hosts eight in-person technical classes called “reverse internships” in 30 districts in southwestern Washington, including Cowlitz County.

The program aims to channel potential local hires trained in the necessary skills into jobs in Cowlitz County, an area known for its manufacturing and for having an unemployment rate consistently above the national average.

“Bring people home to work here”

Historically, the state Department of Employment Security says Cowlitz County is about two percentage points above the national unemployment average during good times and four points during recessions.

Under “reverse internships,” companies walk into the classrooms of middle and high school students, teach them workplace skills and encourage them to plan their careers early, said Chad Mullen, Career Connect Southwest project manager. Washington.

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As of May, eight companies have participated in “Flipped” since Career Connect Southwest launched in 2020, and they hope to invite five more by the end of this school year, Mullen said.

Longview civil engineering firm Gibbs and Olson was one of eight — and the first Longview-based firm — to join the RA Long High School program, said Rich Gushman, president of the firm.

Gibbs and Olson officials over the past two school years partnered with STEM students from RA Long to develop a building project based on a real-life example from the company.

Gibbs and Olson haven’t yet hired a posting intern through “Flipped,” Gushman said, but the company’s current internship program has resulted in future college graduates who will have jobs awaiting them in their hometowns. .


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“We’ve been lucky to bring people home to work here, but we want to try to connect with those people earlier so they know us before they go to school,” Gushman said. “I didn’t know this company existed when I was in high school.”

A new look at jobs

The emphasis on career and technical education (CTE), which aims to teach students specific trades and implement them with apprenticeships, has gained more recognition in recent memory, Mullen said.

“When I was in school, vocational education was the way we talked about it,” Mullen said. “It was seen as a pathway for students who weren’t destined for college and even had associations with students who might not be doing very well in school. CTE is not that. CTE is very rigorous and advanced. … It’s really for every student because everyone is going to work eventually.

Starting in the 1980s, states increased required courses for students, emphasizing academic skills like math, literacy, and social skills. Vocational and technical education remained on the back burner; The Brookings Institute research center estimates that between 1990 and 2009, the number of CTE credits earned by high school students dropped by 14%.

Mullen said he noticed the state now recognizes that students in more rural counties, working in local jobs that require specialized skills, should have the opportunity to take these courses. In 2019, the state Department of Employment Security reports that one-sixth of Cowlitz County’s employment base was in manufacturing.

Participation in CTE does not mean a student is more or less likely to graduate or enroll in college, but it may predict a greater chance of employment, according to Brookings.

And employment is what many sectors need during recent supply shortages, lack of candidates and soaring prices.

“While people are experiencing shortages in so many areas, there is a new appreciation for students who want to work with their hands and prepare for work,” Mullen said.

More local options

Cowlitz County high school students have access to dual-credit programs focused on these hard skills, hoping to help them find jobs in the most available regional sectors like technology, engineering and resources natural.

As part of Lower Columbia College’s Career and Technical Education program, 18 high schools and districts—including Longview School District, Kelso High School, Rainier High School, and the Vancouver School District—currently offer college credit to students.

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Locally, the most popular include courses in computer science, robotics, construction, and automotive technology, all of which can be transferred to any Washington State two-year college or institution and some four-year colleges. years, according to the LCC website.

Just last week, the Kalama School District secured more than $300,000 in state grants to fund a new computer lab and robotics classes at Kalama High School. The grant also allows students to earn up to 12 dual credits in computer science at LCC, an increase from the original eight credits.

A state law passed this year also increased per-student funding in vocational and technical education classes, according to the text of the bill. It guarantees public school districts the means to financially support these classes, also requiring them to report the number of students enrolled in them.

Emily Buker, a Gibbs and Olson intern who joined LCC, said she was still not sure what she wanted to do after her time as a manufacturing major at LCC, she therefore followed his supervisor’s suggestion to join the company as a one-month intern.

“It was the first internship I did and I really enjoyed it,” Buker said. “I feel like I learned a lot and learned a lot about how to do real world things.”

Ryan H. Bowman