By Pat Jenkins
For proof that vocational education is a path to early employment for students, look no further than the Pierce County Skills Center’s aerospace program.
Of the 43 high schoolers who graduated from the program in 2016, 25 are working fulltime and three are continuing their training at a post-secondary institution. Go back another year, to 2015, and the tally sheet shows 17 graduates of the program went to work for Boeing. Another 10 grads were hired by Toray Composites, a manufacturer with a plant in Frederickson that supplies products used in the construction of Boeing airliners.
The pipeline of skills center-trained workers for the aerospace industry is cited by advocates of career and technical education (CTE) as a prime example of the job paths available to young adults right out of high school. They note that workers and employers alike benefit from the CTE opportunities in high schools and career centers, community and technical colleges, apprenticeship programs and four-year universities.
Pierce County workers have more options than ever, including the skills center, to prepare for well-paid jobs, said Linda Nguyen, chief executive officer of Workforce Central. CTE, she noted, is an “important part of our economy.”
Earlier this year, Governor Jay Inslee declared February as CTE Month in Washington. He praised CTE for its “authentic, meaningful experiences” for students.
That drew an endorsement from Workforce Central, which works to strengthen the Pierce County economy by fostering workforce development to help fill skill gaps between jobseekers and available employment. An integral part of that effort is the Pierce County Skills Center, a consortium of seven school districts, including Bethel and Eatonville.
“The skills center is an impressive example of how CTE offers a direct path to long-term, good paying jobs,” Nguyen said. “Employers are able to engage students throughout their education and handpick new employees as soon as they get their diploma.”
The skills center, which opened in 2010 and is located in the Frederickson area, serves students from nine school districts and a combined 26 high schools in Pierce County. In addition to Bethel, which administers the center, and Eatonville, the districts are Fife, Franklin Pierce, Orting, Steilacoom, Sumner, Tacoma and White River. The programs that help students get a head-start on possible careers include healthcare, culinary arts, advanced manufacturing, information technology, public safety and construction.
The learning is year-round. Summer school courses are scheduled for June 26 to July 14, with some courses offered on high school campuses such as Graham-Kapowsin.
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