By David Beyer, Leonard Kelley, Jon Nehring, Nate Nehring and Barbara Tolbert
For The Globe-Times
As the construction industry in Snohomish County continues to boom, we are constantly hearing the same message from industry leaders: There is a workforce shortage in the skilled trades.
Years of societal pressure and public policy have resulted in our youths not being encouraged to pursue the trades but rather to seek degrees in two- and four-year institutions.
While the traditional college path presents great opportunities for some, time has shown that a one-size-fits-all approach to career readiness is not working. It is time for us to work together to break down barriers that are preventing young adults from a successful career in the skilled trades.
Recent workforce studies have shown that the three most prominent trades in Snohomish County are carpenters, construction laborers and electricians, who collectively make up almost a third of the construction industry.
North Snohomish County has been identified as a potential hub for these skilled trades because of the renewed focus from local school districts on career and technical education (CTE) programs, the regional growth and skilled labor projects slated for the near future, and the presence of the new Arlington-Marysville Manufacturing Industrial Center, which is projected to foster more than 20,000 family wage jobs in coming years.
An ongoing effort has brought together a diverse and invested group of local stakeholders, including educators, elected officials and leaders from labor and industry.
One problem identified by labor is that those going into apprenticeships are already in their late 20s. This means we are losing out on an entire decade of productivity and career development for youths once they graduate from high school. The goal of our effort is to create a more seamless transition from the K-12 education system into a career in the skilled trades.
Everett Community College has partnered with local school districts to work on dual-credit opportunities so that a prospective student could enroll in a pre-apprenticeship program resulting in a high school diploma and college credit.
Partnerships with local labor unions have resulted in curriculum development so that students who complete a pre-apprenticeship program will have a direct pathway from high school graduation to a career in the skilled trades.
The program would include classroom training on construction-related coursework, including worker safety, reading blueprints, applied mathematics, use of basic hand tools and more.
Creating an easier path for our youth to enter the skilled trades benefits the entire community. The potential for increased graduation rates gives an advantage to school districts. An increase in the skilled workforce will be an asset to labor organizations and businesses. Local residents will have greater opportunity to fill local jobs paying wages that can support families.
This would require a further look into state policies and funding for education to reduce barriers and encourage programs that prepare students for careers in skilled trades. However, we can start taking steps toward creating more pathways for students with the pre-apprenticeship program in the works now.
David Beyer is president of EvCC. Leonard Kelley is secretary/treasurer for the Snohomish County Labor Council and mayor of Stanwood. Jon Nehring is mayor of Marysville. Nate Nehring is a Snohomish County council member. And Barbara Tolbert is mayor of Arlington.