How Oregon Works: All Hands Raised helps high schools clear a path to the trades for students (Portland Business Journal, Nov 2018)
Tim Gutfleisch, a manufacturing instructor at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, participates in a meeting of several regional high schools working in partnership with All Hands Raised to strengthen pathways to careers in construction and manufacturing.
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All Hands Raised is playing a key role in helping Portland-area high school students traverse the chasm between graduation and work in high-paying manufacturing jobs.
It’s no secret that trade classes have been in decline in public schools across the nation for the past 30 to 40 years. But in Oregon, new programs and partnerships with the K-12 system are working to bring trades back to the forefront.
The hope is that by building awareness, working with industry and helping schools create new trade classes and educational opportunities, kids who aren’t a good fit for college can get on the
path to high-wage manufacturing and construction jobs, without the burden of college debt. But there’s a lot of work to do building interest and connecting industry with schools to make it happen, said Jeanie-Marie Price, a spokeswoman for All Hands Raised, a Portland nonprofit working on the problem.
“There’s been a chasm between high schools and what’s next for these kids,” Price said. “Especially in the trades, because it’s complicated by stigma.”
The organization for the past three years has been working with five local high schools: Reynolds in Troutdale, Centennial and Sam Barlow in Gresham, and Helensview and Roosevelt in Portland.
Its goal is to build pathways to careers for students in construction and manufacturing, strengthen career-technical options and improve access and transitioning to post-secondary career training.
The group doesn’t provide infrastructure funding or create classes directly. Rather it conducts analyses of each school and district, arranges partnerships and interactions with industry leaders and works with local manufacturing and construction companies to build pipelines to jobs.
At Reynolds High School, the group’s efforts have led to a 20 percent uptick in student enrollment in trade classes, Price said. It also helped spur creation of the first HVAC program ever at a public high school in Oregon, said Justin Birmingham, administrator of grants and partnerships for the Reynolds School District.
“Two years ago All Hands Raised came to us and proposed this idea of acknowledging the shortfall of students in manufacturing,” Birmingham said. “They helped us look at competing aspects in schools to address the problem and where they were leading.”
From data to action
All Hands Raised did a data-driven analysis looking at the school district’s shortfalls, brought it to the school’s attention and helped encourage the administration to take action, Birmingham said.
“They did a lot of that through the introduction of additional business and industry partners,” Birmingham said. “That helped us to be more intentional about constructing our manufacturing practices.”
For students, the group also helped create field trips to industry sites and lectures by prominent business leaders and industry experts.
“What we have had traditionally is a large number of students who take introductory level classes in manufacturing,” Birmingham said. “But our challenge is to get them to complete a second-level or third-level course and complete their study. That makes them attractive to employers.”
Prior to All Hands Raised’ involvement, students would take an exploratory metals class in the first year, but most moved on to other things and didn’t go back to it, Birmingham said. “All Hands Raised helped us build structures that motivate students to stay consistent in one field of study,” he said.
Students who complete a CTE three-course program also graduate at a 91 percent rate, which is far higher than the graduation rate at large, he said.
“The numbers don’t lie,” Birmingham said. “We want to make investments where the greatest return will be gotten by our youth.”
The HVAC class, which is already at full enrollment, began this fall, said Tim Gutfleisch, the manufacturing instructor at Reynolds.
“All Hands Raised helped get our HVAC class started,” Gutfleisch said. “It’s so unusual to have that. It’s part of a pre-apprenticeship program that’s fully approved by the Bureau of Labor and the Sheet Metal Union. And the students will graduate from our program with a golden opportunity.”
To kick off the class, each student is building themselves a large toolbox. And if they finish the program — which will include three classes — they will get goodies that will help them compete in future careers.
“We’re giving them a lot of tools if they complete the program,” Gutfleish said. “So they’ll have a box to put them in if they finish.”
A better application
New trade classes and a pipeline for skilled trade workers is something industry is also eager to build, said Emi Donis, general counsel at Senior Aerospace SSP.
Donis, who has has been working with All Hands Raised at Centennial High School, said school officials don’t often know who to reach out to when they want to build trade programs.
“Industry are desperate and as every day goes by, they continue to be even more desperate for workers,” Donis said. “At the same time you’ve got the kids in high school — and not everybody’s going to college. But in the schools all you hear about is college. So the kids go to college, leave after a year or two and get stuck in fast food with a bunch of debt. What we’re doing is trying to help those kids.”
One problem she encountered: high school students seeking occupations in the trades often don’t know how to apply. And even when they do, the application process designed by some employers isn’t made with them in mind.
Donis worked with several Centennial students who were applying for jobs at Precision Castparts Corp. (PCC), where she previously worked as deputy general counsel. Even she struggled to navigate the online application for an entry-level position. The site, she said, was focused almost exclusively on white-collar college graduate workers, and not on the trade pipeline.
“It turned out they were using word-of-mouth and general recruiting agencies for hourly workers, while for white-collar workers the company had a full recruiting program aimed at college students,” Donis said. “I was like, uh, that’s not a good strategy. I said we should really replicate what we do for white-collar workers for high schools. It’s the same problem, just a different workforce.”
PCC is aware of the issue and is working with All Hands Raised to improve access to its jobs.
All Hands Raised is working with a few groups, including Work Systems, to try to develop a larger application system for students across Oregon. When it’s finished, the hope is that students will be able to put their resumes online and list jobs they’re interested in, and employers can look through it and hire them.
Overall, creating a pathway for students to high wage jobs is good for both the economy and social mobility, Birmingham said.
Many who complete their training in the trades and move through the journeyman program start at $30 an hour or more, without college debt, he said.
“All trades are ‘you earn while you learn’,” Birmingham said. “Apprentices are paid on the job while they go to school to earn credentials. And $60,000 a year for a 22-year-old without a college degree is pretty impressive for east county.”