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Apprenticeship forum to shed light on career opportunities

Representatives from construction, electrical, roofing fields to present at forum

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL - Johnna Snow, a St. Helens High School senior, works with a band saw Tuesday, March 1, during her independent carpentry elective class. Snow is interested in working as a carpenter after graduation and said she wants to learn more about apprenticeship programs available to her after high school.The Apprenticeship Coordinators Group of Oregon and Southwest Washington plans to talk to current and future workforce members about job opportunities in hands-on and trade-based labor fields during a forum at the St. Helens High School, Friday, March 11, from 10 a.m. to noon.

The purpose of the forum is to inform the public about different types of labor trades and how individuals can pursue careers in various fields through apprenticeship training programs.

Union trade representatives, from construction, sheet metal, roofing and plumbing, electrical, and several other areas, will be at the event, according to Diana Nish, a workforce specialist for Pacific NW Works.

Representatives from a variety of trades will talk about education requirements, current and future job openings, and position benefits in their respective fields. A question-and-answer session will also be held during the two-hour event.

The primary sponsor of the apprenticeship forum is Pacific NW Works, a nonprofit job-training and resource center in St. Helens that partners with Workforce Oregon, the state’s network of employment resources.

Bridget Quinn, a workforce development coordinator for NECA-IBEW Electrical Training, has been helping Nish plan for next week’s event.

“This forum benefits career seekers by exposing them to the possibilities that apprenticeships provide,” Quinn said in an email. “Apprenticeships fly under most peoples’ radar when they are exploring career options and we want to increase awareness.”

The last time Pacific NW Works held an apprenticeship forum was in 2011, Nish said. With limited participation from trade representatives and low public turnout, the company eventually stopped hosting the event.

However, Nish said, things are now changing in Columbia County and it seemed like a good time to start hosting the event again.

“The reason for looking at it now is that what we’re seeing is that, still, the baby boomers are retiring and getting out of the trades and there are a variety of opening in those trades to get jobs in there,” Nish said.

In 2015, the industries that grew the most in Columbia County were manufacturing and business services, according to data from the Oregon Employment Department. However, Nish said that while the county has lost a variety of industry employment, the county is growing in other areas.

“One of the things we have seen is that we’ve lost a lot of industry, but we’re seeing a lot of new construction now,” Nish said.

While the forum is open to the general public, Nish said she specifically invited students from Columbia and Cowlitz counties to attend the event. Teaching students about career fields and possible paths to education is a major benefit to those who are close to graduation.

Opportunity to network

For St. Helens High School building and construction teacher Joe Mauck, the forum will be the perfect opportunity to network. Mauck recently helped the school apply for a $380,000 grant from the Oregon Department of Education to fund an offsite home remodeling and renovation program within the school’s career and technical education program. Students who enroll for fall classes will learn construction skills by working on homes in the St. Helens area in need of repair.

Trade professionals at the event will represent a variety of companies in northwest Oregon and southern Washington. MJ Munger, the college and career readiness coordinator at St. Helens High School, said educating people about jobs and career fields that exist in northwest Oregon offers a chance for more people to find local jobs.

    “The real hope is that people will be able to find jobs here and stay here in our county,” Munger said.

Additionally, Munger explained that promoting hands-on, skills-based learning is making a resurgence in the education realm. Traditional four-year programs are beneficial, but trade-based learning programs should have a place in the discussion about higher education, Munger explained.

“College is good and college is important, but we’ve lost some of the hands-on skills,” Munger said.

Students like Alex Lee and Johnna Snow, both seniors at St. Helens High School, said they would be interested in attending an event like the apprenticeship forum to find out more about career paths. Lee said he is interested in looking for a construction internship after he graduates. Snow said she is looking into a career in carpentry.

Both students have been involved in woodworking and construction classes that Mauck teaches at the high school.