State antes up to train students for jobs in trades
The state has OK'd $100 million to overhaul its program and to expand its network of skill centers.
Seattle Times Eastside bureau
Bothell High School senior Lanie Wait thought about a career in health care, but until she interned at a local nursing home this semester she wasn't sure. The course, part of the state's career- and technical-education program, focused her sights on nursing, a field with a critical worker shortage.
"It really helped me make the decision that this is the right thing for me," she said.
Thousands more students statewide will be encouraged to explore a range of trade and career opportunities in high-demand fields as the state turns its attention to training a new generation of workers.
Gov. Christine Gregoire last week signed legislation calling for the first overhaul in 20 years of the state's Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. The bill retools high-school training programs to ensure students can move easily to industry apprenticeships and programs at technical and community colleges.
The state also included modernization and expansion of high school skill centers in a separate $100 million appropriation. Skill centers are the regional campuses where high school students explore trades such as aerospace manufacturing and computer networking. About $9 million will go toward a new health-careers facility that will serve seven Eastside school districts in partnership with Lake Washington Technical College.
The bill also recognizes that hands-on CTE courses can deliver the academic content needed to meet state standards. By beefing up the math, science and reading content of the courses, and adding training in academic subjects to CTE teachers' technical expertise, the bill will give students another way to prepare for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning.
"This is the K-12 response to the state's need for more workers with 21st-century skills," said John Aultman, assistant superintendent for career and college readiness at the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
After more than a decade of emphasizing college readiness and higher academic standards, the state is responding to the cries of business and industry for skilled workers.
Many construction trades already can't fill openings for jobs such as electricians and welders. White-collar employers, from hotels and hospitals to state government, also worry that they won't be able to meet workforce needs.
"We're hearing from business and industry as never before that we have to develop a larger pipeline of qualified people," said Joyce Carroll, director of the Northeast Tech Prep Consortium, which works with nine Eastside school districts and four community and technical colleges to provide education and job-skills training to students.
Once known somewhat disparagingly as vocational education or industrial arts, programs such as auto mechanics and metal working are being retooled to lead to apprenticeships, industry certification and college degrees.
"This isn't shop anymore," said Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, a sponsor of the CTE legislation. "We need to send a message to students that if they stay in school, there are multiple pathways to get a good career."
The Seattle area and northeast King County were both identified by a 2006 state study as being underserved by existing skill-center programs. The Seattle School District doesn't have a central training center but provides CTE classes at its high schools. The new legislation funds a $75,000 feasibility study for the district to expand its high-school offerings.
On the Eastside, a consortium of seven school districts, including Bellevue, Lake Washington and Northshore, plans a partnership with Lake Washington Technical College to build the $9 million allied health facility that will be in the college's new $30 million health-sciences facility scheduled to open in 2011.
The arrangement could become a model for expanded career programs throughout the state by providing one location where students can move easily from high school to advanced training to industry.
"If we're interested in where the next generation of workers will come from, and we want to grow our own rather than continuing to import them, this is part of the answer," said Mike Potter, dean of Lake Washington Technical College.
In Snohomish County, the Sno-Isle Skills Center will get a $26 million renovation, part of a $72 million appropriation the Legislature made last year to begin modernizing the state's 10 regional skill centers.
The state's labor unions applaud the renewed commitment to workforce training.
"We need young people to rebuild our roads and bridges, to continue to expand our economic base," said David Johnson, executive secretary of the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council. "I don't know who they thought was going to do the work that needs to be done."
Johnson said the CTE overhaul could also help address the state's high-school-dropout rate. Training programs that combine hands-on learning with real-world job opportunities may keep more students engaged, he said.
At Woodinville High School, students in a health-science-careers class spend a semester in a high-school classroom fitted out like a hospital room. They learn about anatomy, physiology and disease processes, medications and side effects, and ways to preserve patients' privacy and dignity.
They gain professional contacts and some health-care experience for their résumés.
Kathleen Dearborn, a registered nurse who has taught the health-sciences class for the past 19 years, said the new allied health wing at Lake Washington Technical College will open those opportunities to even more students in more fields.
Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, another sponsor of the CTE bill, said the state wants all students to have a clear route to a promising future.
"We're not closing the door on college for these students," McAuliffe said. "We're creating more opportunities for kids to move up in different ways."
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this article, originally published April 3, 2008, was corrected June 30, 2008. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that $100 million for modernizing the state's high school skill centers was included in CTE legislation signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire. The $100 million was appropriated in separate legislation and includes money for the state's existing school construction matching grant program.
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