Skilled electricians, mechanics and other such valuable workers are nearing retirement age, and not enough young people are following in their footsteps to meet the demand for such services.
Educators, legislators, labor officials and students met at Corvallis High School on Wednesday to hammer out ways to bring trades education back into public middle and high schools.
Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Brad Avakian, state Rep. Sara Gelser of Corvallis and Corvallis Schools Superintendent Dawn Tarzian were among those who aired issues and proposed solutions.
Avakian said that in the past decade or so, many cash-strapped public school districts have cut their career and technical education programs, which traditionally taught industrial arts. Such courses were useful to students who were not interested in pursuing college careers and who needed workplace skills to find good jobs after graduation.
Avakian plans to introduce a bill this session that, if passed by the Legislature, will help restore such programs by creating a grant fund. The Oregon Department of Education would oversee the fund, to which school districts could apply for money to implement career and technical education programs.
“We want to start out by restoring programs at 10 middle schools and high schools,” Avakian said. “Eventually we would like CET programs to be restored at every school.”
The roundtable discussion was held at CHS because Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry officials are impressed by how the Corvallis School District has expanded its career and technical education programs. For the past three years, students from Corvallis and Crescent Valley high schools and College Hill School have participated in pre-apprenticeships provided by different community organizations. The pre-apprenticeships enable students to learn a variety of skills, including concrete work, computer drafting, sustainable construction and electronics.
Two students in the pre-apprenticeship programs described how such programs have been useful to them:
“It gave me options after high school that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise,” said College Hill senior Jennifer Green. “Now I am planning to go to Linn-Benton Community College and become an electrician.”
“It’s great being able to take what we learn and then go use it 20 minutes later,” said CHS senior Jared Holcombe. “It’s a lot easier to learn things like math that way instead of listening to a teacher go on and on.”
This year, four pre-apprenticeship programs are available to students:
• Oregon/Southern Idaho Laborers Training Center in Adair Village.
• Blazers Industries Inc. in Aumsville.
• Community Services Consortium’s Weatherization Training Center in Corvallis.
• Central Electrical Training Center in Tangent.
“This has been a really good start,” Avakian said of the roundtable. “I look forward to presenting some of this discussion to the (full) Legislature.”