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Preparing for Workforce of Tomorrow by linking education, business

By , Columbian Business Editor
Published: February 15, 2019, 6:02am

Thomus Cherry is a Clark College student with a clear path to a $27-an-hour job at SEH America if he so chooses.

Cherry, 19, is one of five participants in an SEH pilot program to create a pipeline of trained young people for the company’s technical jobs. SEH, like several area tech companies and other manufacturing companies, is concerned about attracting and retaining a skilled workforce for the future.

The manufacturing technician career launch pilot, as it’s been called by the east Vancouver silicon wafer-maker, offers a $12- to $14-an-hour paid apprenticeship at SEH of 25 to 28 hours a week and Clark College tuition covered by the company en route to a technician certification.

If the apprentice successfully completes the program, a likely position awaits as a full-time SEH technician with median pay of $27 an hour. The company also offers a tuition reimbursement program for an associate degree and other post-secondary education pursuits.

This is the type of corporate and education behavior that would be encouraged and rewarded under legislation being considered in Olympia and backed by Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration. Called “career-connected learning,” the legislation would offer financial incentives for schools to increase enrollment in career launch programs, create career-connected learning programs and hire people who would work as coordinators between companies and community colleges to ensure students are leaving with job-ready skills.

This type of coordinated effort to supply a next-generation, technically focused workforce is overdue as wave after wave of skilled workers retire, said Ted Feller, executive director of the Southwest Washington STEM Network. Not enough has been done to fill the remaining vacancies, he said.

“Kids in this region know how to go to Running Start,” Feller said of the program that offers high school students an early introduction to college courses. “They know how to go to a four-year institution. That pathway Thomus has chosen? We need to make that as clear as the others.”

Cherry, a 2018 Heritage High School graduate, and Feller, chair of the Columbia River Economic Development Council education committee and a former Evergreen Public Schools administrator, were among a group that visited The Columbian on Thursday to promote the career-connected learning bills before the state House and Senate.

Legislative action

Senate Bill 5327, “Expanding career connected learning opportunities,” is set for a Senate Ways & Means Committee public hearing at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, is among its 15 sponsors.

The House Committee on College & Workforce Development is considering House Bill 1336, which is a companion to SB 5327. Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and Rep. Sharon Wylie, D-Vancouver, are among 16 sponsors.

Both bills support career-connected learning that focuses on combining classroom learning and work-based learning and can range from job shadowing to registered apprenticeships. In 2017, Inslee created the Career Connect Washington Task Force to develop strategies for expanding career-connected learning. The task force members included representatives from business, labor, state government, nonprofit organizations, and education.

The task force issued its recommendation last year. It focused on building community, education, and industry partnerships; ensuring students have more access to CCL opportunities, including registered apprenticeships, and building a systemic strategic plan to better connect Washington’s youth with the education and training employers need.

But for Cherry and SEH, they have embarked on a pioneer’s path of connectedness between education and industry.

Cherry started his relationship with SEH as a high school student, encouraged to do so by one his teachers, Darlyn Wendlandt, whom Cherry credited during his visit to The Columbian.

After the internship, Cherry stayed in contact with SEH officials, who later contacted him about the pilot apprenticeship program.

Cherry is pursuing a mechatronics certification at Clark College in instrumentation and control automation, said Natalie Pacholl, the SEH training and development specialist overseeing the program.

“We’re integrating work and school,” Pacholl said in an email. “So what they do on the job is reinforced at college and vice versa.”

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