Every day there is another news article focused on the skills gap in manufacturing and how our workforce is not prepared for the manufacturing and tech jobs that continue to become more complex.
In talking to local workforce experts, they recognize that efforts to re-train adult workers with new skills are important, but the true impacts are made at the K-12 levels. If we want to build a strong workforce pipeline, that is where we must start.
The Evergreen School District, which serves Camas and east Vancouver, Washington, has been working with local CEOs for over eight years to grow a robust internship program that allows kids to “earn and learn” their way into future job opportunity. This program not only provides a significant workforce pipeline for manufacturers, it also provides incredible opportunities for excellent students that may not want to pursue a college path.
John Deeder, the former superintendent with Evergreen School District who developed and fostered this project, shared the following important components in developing an internship program within a K-12 district.
School Board Leadership: Collaboration with the community starts at the top. Deeder was given direction by his board to engage with the community. Without the support and direction from leadership, he likely would not have pursued the program.
CEO Leadership: Ben Bagherpour, vice president of operations at SEH America, was the first leader in the community to understand that he must control his own destiny and begin to build his own pipeline.
With his commitment to hire students and dedicate staff to shape the internship program, he has now hired 70 of the 200 interns hosted at SEH America over a period of five years. The remaining 130 students are pursuing college degrees with a tangible application of their internship experience. Companies like Columbia Machine and LSW Architects are now on board as well.
Don’t Replace Employees: Deeder understands that the interns can’t replace employees and they can’t affect the bottom line. Companies find the most value from internships by completing those projects that don’t seem to move forward such as the evaluation of safety programs or charting efficiency in current processes.
Dedicate Staff: Both Evergreen School District and SEH have hired a full-time employee to work through details of implementing the program and guarantee its success. This dedication grows the relationship beyond internships so that companies are also integrated into the high school classes.
In an Evergreen chemistry class, students are now growing silicon ingots (which ultimately become chips in our digital devices) thanks to machines donated by SEH.
In addition to building a robust internship program, Evergreen has amplified their science, technology, engineering and math advanced placement enrollment from 238 to 4,000 students in a period of five years. They have done this with a conscious decision by leadership to remove barriers by allowing any student to enroll in these classes – no matter prior coursework or GPA.
And to make sure they succeed, Evergreen has partnered with local high-tech manufacturing company nLIGHT to provide engineering talent to mentor the students. It is Deeder’s exceptional philosophy that one certain STEM AP class may be the moment that grabs a child’s attention and keeps them focused on a career path.
Evergreen School District has done the hard work to develop the model and show positive results, and the rest of the region has an opportunity to leverage this success. With dedicated leadership from both our school boards and CEOs, we can develop a resilient workforce pipeline for our economy and a meaningful future for our kids.